The Game of Their Lives Review by Reuters

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 22, 2005 | Publication: Reuters | Author: Kirk Honeycutt
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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Game of Their Lives" has a great sports story to tell, yet the filmmakers fumble it away.

Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo have collaborated on sports features before, notably "Hoosiers" and "Rudy." Here, though, the heroism and drama that went into the U.S. soccer team's defeat of a legendary British team at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil elude them.

"Game" will appeal mostly to men, especially sports buffs since, unlike "Bend It Like Beckham," the story remains rooted to the football pitch.

Movies about upset sports victories usually focus on one or two primary characters. Here Anspaugh and Pizzo take a diffuse approach, spreading the dramatic interest over seven major characters -- not including the coach, a sportswriter, a couple of wives and one key opponent. The film ably evokes the Eisenhower era, both in the U.S. and Brazil. Yet perhaps because of the near invisibility of soccer in the U.S. in 1950, the emotional stakes and involvement a U.S. viewer might feel toward, say, a basketball team or track star are noticeably absent.

Anspaugh does put together a fine ensemble cast to play the ragtag Yanks. The U.S. team was assembled almost literally overnight, giving players only a few weeks for training and warm-up matches before flying to Rio. Coach Bill Jeffrey (John Rhys-Davies) and promoter Walter Giesler (Craig Hawksley) took the expedient of setting up only one tryout game in St. Louis between East Coast players and a group of Italian-Americans from "the Hill" in St. Louis, a neighborhood hotbed of football talent. The film's main focus is on the Italian-Americans.

Gerard Butler, relieved of the burden of singing he endured in the titular role of "The Phantom of the Opera," capably plays the key player, goalie Frank Borghi, whose athleticism in front of the net saves his team time after time. Rounding out the squad are Jay Rodan as "Pee Wee" Wallace, a boisterous party guy with a deathly fear of flying; Louis Mandylor as Gino Pariani, whose wedding moves up to accommodate the team schedule; Zachery Bryan as Harry Keough, a local mail carrier; and Costas Mandylor as "Gloves" Columbo, the team enforcer.

From the East Coast comes Wes Bentley as Walter Bahr, a halfback from Philly who virtually manages the team given the coach's indifference and lack of faith, and Jimmy Jean-Louis as colorful Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian with a strong belief in voodoo.

The story is told by a local sportswriter who accompanies the team to Brazil, Dent McSkimming, played by Patrick Stewart in present day and Terry Kinney as the young reporter. Gavin Rossdale, the lead singer-songwriter of Bush, makes his film debut as British football legend Stan Mortensen.

The movie skips the World Cup opener against Spain, which the U.S. lost, to get right to the game with the Brits, then considered the best team in the world. There is a mild attempt to villainize Mortensen, whose smirk of supreme self-confidence fades quickly when the Yanks score a first-half goal. The game itself, which occupies the final third of the film, is interesting and well played by the actor-athletes yet fails to galvanize one's emotions.

We simply aren't sufficiently invested in the characters: The players are figures on a field rather than men caught up in the transcendent moment of their lives. Long before the game gets under way, the film needed to enter much more intensely into their lives in an ethnic big-city ghetto. In other words, the film needs more story and less soccer.

Period details ring true. Even women's hairdos conform to '50s styles. Production values are aces, which is especially noteworthy given the modest budget and what must have been an arduous 49-day shooting schedule.

Cast: Frank Borghi: Gerard Butler; Walter Bahr: Wes Bentley; Dent McSkimming: Patrick Stewart; Harry Keough: Zachary Bryan; "Pee Wee" Wallace: Jay Rodan; Gino Pariani: Louis Mandylor; "Gloves" Colombo: Costas Mandylor; Joe Gaetjens: Jimmy Jean-Louis; Stanley Mortensen: Gavin Rossdale; Bill Jeffrey: John Rhys-Davies.

Director: David Anspaugh; Screenwriter: Angelo Pizzo; Based on the book by Geoffrey Douglas; Producers: Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin, Ginger T. Perkins, Peter Newman; Executive producers: William J. Immerman, Greg Johnson; Director of photography: Johnny E. Jensen; Production designer: Linda Burton; Music: Jerry Goldsmith, William Ross; Co-producers: Nick Morton, Ira Deutchman; Costumes: Jane Anderson; Editors: Bud Smith, Scott Smith, Ian Crafford, Lee Grubin.