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The Damned United (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time: 98 Minutes.

OK for children.

Prospectively, this looks as if it would have little market in the United States. It’s about soccer, which has been soundly rejected as a spectator sport by the American public. As a result, not many people know about the game and very few would know who Leeds United is or was or whatever.

But this film is about Brian Clough’s doomed 44 day tenure as manager of the reigning champions of English football (with a reputation akin to The New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, and Pittsburgh Steelers in their respective sports).

It’s basically the story of how the rivalry between two men deeply affected Clough (Michael Sheen) when he got the big break of replacing Don Revie (Colm Meaney) as the Manager of Leeds United in 1974.

The reason the film is so entertaining is that the acting is superb, especially Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall, who plays Peter Taylor, Clough’s assistant manager and best friend. But Meaney is terrific as the overbearing Revie and Jim Broadbent gives his usual outstanding performance as Clough’s boss, Sam Longson.

My impression of soccer is that it’s a non-contact sport and not very brutal. Most of the action in the film is taken from actual game footage, and some of it is pretty rough (but nothing like what you see in an American football game, or in any rugby game, for that matter). I thought that they tried to make the game a lot more physical than it really is, but the man sitting next to me coached children’s soccer and said that it really is rough. I’m not convinced. I’ve seen enough soccer to know that it’s mainly running up and down the field with a little contact, which the players always make seem it’s a lot more damaging than it really is.

It will be hard for Americans to identify with how seriously Brits take their football. Even so, this is a film that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, rely on the sport itself for its success. What it really is, is a story about one man, Clough, and the vendetta he created for himself in his own head with Don Revie. This is a very entertaining movie.

August 13, 2009