The Game of Their Lives (IFC Films, PG)

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 24, 2005 | Publication: Playback St. Louis | Author: Joe Hodes
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The Game of Their Lives is the story of the United States team in the 1950 World Cup that shocked the world by defeating top-seeded England 1-0. The film is the third collaboration between writer Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh—indeed, their third sports-themed collaboration, following Hoosiers and Rudy.

The story is one of contrasts: The working class St. Louisans (drawn from soccer-mad Italian-Americans on the Hill) opposed to their East Coast ivy league teammates; the film’s modern-day prologue at the Major League Soccer All-Star Game at RFK Stadium against the sport’s humble beginnings in city parks and on public school fields; the rough American amateurs versus the cocksure, polished English team.

The film aptly captures the absurd position in which these men found themselves. How does one justify putting aside adult concerns of work and family obligations to play a child’s game? Today, the idea of flying across the world to play before an international audience is the chance of a lifetime; for these men, it meant lost wages, postponed marriages, and derision from friends and neighbors. Even their coaches were more concerned with the perception of the U.S. soccer program than with their performance on the field. At halftime of a drubbing by a touring select team, the coach’s only words of advice were a stern reminder to be on time for the team banquet the following day so as not to embarrass their guests.

In one of the film’s most effective scenes, the team finally receives its uniforms at an impromptu ceremony at a U.S. airfield in Brazil. The players are called forward not by their position with the team, but by their Second World War ranks and service records. Just a few years removed from earning medals and commendations on the battlefield, these simple, working-class family men were again serving their country in uniform.

The performances are universally solid, with Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) leading the way as St. Louisan Frank Borghi, the team’s goalie and quiet leader. Standing out also is Louis Mandylor as Gino Pariani, the film’s everyman, who has to cope with setting aside his family obligations to play, and who has some trouble with his diverse teammates and their beliefs. Despite possessing just one intense facial expression, Wes Bentley (American Beauty) is well cast as team leader Walter Bahr, a “professional” soccer player from Philadelphia. The oddest casting choice was that of Patrick Stewart as American sports reporter Dent McSkinning, whose reminiscences serve as the film’s narration. An English Shakespearean actor, Stewart’s American accent is not convincing.

Of course, many will turn out to see what they consider to be the real star of the film: The city of St. Louis. The production spent several weeks shooting in St. Louis, employing 2,000 local extras. Featured locations across the city include the streets and sidewalks of the Hill, Soldan High School, Marquette Park, Casa Loma Ballroom, and the Missouri Athletic Club. A close observer may even catch a glimpse of our late Century Building, immortalized on film as St. Louis’s best stand-in for a New York City streetscape.

Although no match for the director-writer team’s earlier triumph with Hoosiers, viewers seeking St. Louis scenes or a compelling sports story will not be disappointed in The Game of Their Lives. |