A losing score for 'The Game of Their Lives'

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 22, 2005 | Publication: HOLLYWOOD REPORTER | Author: Kirk Honeycutt
Publication/Article Link:

'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.

The film ably evokes the Eisenhower era, both in the United States 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 rag-tag Yanks. The U.S. team was assembled almost 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 saves his team time after time.

Rounding out the squad are Jay Rodan as "Pee Wee" Wallace, a boisterous party guy with a fear of flying; Louis Mandylor as Gino Pariani, whose wedding moves up to accommodate the team schedule; Zachery Bryan as Harry Keough, a 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.