We are all familiar with the sports movie plot. This is one of the most formulaic sub-genres in film ever. A team of pretty much any sport, I’m going to say dwarf tossing just to amuse myself, (it’s a real sport. If you don’t believe me, google it). Anyway, a dwarf tossing team is very bad, unable to toss a dwarf three feet. Despicable. First plot twist. The dwarf tossing team has a new coach! No! He’ll mess with their dwarf tossing style. The coach has to prove himself. And he ends up making the dwarf tossers a real team who truly grow to understand the meaning of dwarf tossing. The team improves, learn how to toss a dwarf hundreds of feet, and they win a championship and more importantly, to believe in themselves. All because they can toss a dwarf. That was fun.
My point is, we’ve all seen this sports movie hundreds of times. As Americans, we love underdog stories. We love believing that David can defeat Goliath. And I understand that.
My question, then, is, can’t you mix it up a bit? Make the plot a little more complex? Make it about more than just the underdog story? In response, Hollywood seems to have said no to that question, with a few exceptions. Who doesn’t love Remember the Titans after all?
Which is why I was so happy to find a sports movie that does more than set up the underdog story. It is more a deep character piece that warns of blind ambition and asserts the value of friendship. That and I got to see hot British football players take off their shirts. What more do you need? I’m talking about The Damned United.
This British film about football (soccer to my fellow Americans) was directed by Tom Hooper and released in 2009. It is loosely based on the football managing of Brian Clough (Micheal Sheen), who is offered the intimidating position of manager of the best English football team. Clough has to fight to fill the shoes of his predecessor and bitter rival, Don Revie (Colm Meaney) facing the adverse circumstances of a cheating team only loyal to Revie, and the animosity of Clough’s former partner, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall (we all know him as Peter Pettigrew)).
What I love most about this movie was the plot structure. The events are not consecutive. It switches between the events of 1974, when Clough if managing the best team in England, and the events leading up to 1974, when Clough and Peter are turning the underdog Darby team into champions. I felt this was a very insightful choice, because at first you don’t really know what has brought these events to pass, and the viewer is eager to understand. This tactic immerses you in the film.
And as I stated before, this movie shows another side of sports other than the underdog side, probably because it’s British and not American. I am not making a racist comment, I am simply asserting that the addiction to underdog stories is usually an American phenomenon considering the nature of the American Revolution. This movie is not about that, and not really even about the sport itself. I think at the heart of it, this movie is about Clough’s blind ambition. It goes to his head and prevents him from managing his team. It’s like Macbeth with a football.
My one complaint with this movie is something very very nit-picky which just shows how good this movie is that I wasn’t able to find a more substantial flaw. During one game, text goes on screen saying the team was having it’s worst start in 20 years. Not two minutes later, the screen cuts to Clough’s boss who says exactly that, word for word. If I just read the info, why does someone need to say it? It’s redundant. Either cut the text or cut the line. But again, very very nit-picky.
So for transcending its genre and for giving me an excuse to say bloody a few times tomorrow, I give the Damned United a 9 out of 10. As they would say in football, OOOOOOLLLLLEEEEE OLE OLE OOOLLLLEEE!