A mythical match is brought to life

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 21, 2005 | Publication: CyberSoccerNews | Author: Llew Llewellyn
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There are few US soccer fans who don’t know the story of the underdog US national team’s shocking 1-0 win over England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, but few probably know how it was accomplished, apart from the goal being scored by Joe Gatjens.

In a new release from the team of director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo that brought you the underdog sports movies Rudy and Hoosiers, some - if not most - of the story is revealed to the public for the first time in cinematic form.

Shortly after being initially approached by the Anschutz Entertainment Group to be part of a contemporary soccer film, the pair decided they would accept the offer if they could do an authentic piece.

“I heard about the story from Indiana’s head coach Jerry Yeagley about six weeks after we were committed to do the film,’ said Pizzo at a screening of the movie in Hollywood last week. “I called David and said ‘I’m not really a soccer fan, but I’d go see this film’ and that’s how it started.”


The 1950 US World Cup team
Loosely based on the 1996 book of the same name by Geoffrey Douglas, the movie initially concentrates on the Italian area of St. Louis known locally as “The Hill,” one of many pockets of soccer in mid-century USA.

“When I first heard the story, I didn’t know that there was any tradition connected to soccer in America and the more research I did I found out that the immigrant centers in the big cities had vibrant and active organizations,” said Pizzo. “I thought it was something that very few people knew about and that it was the foundation of what soccer has become today.”

Indeed, the movie opens at an imaginary All-Star game at RFK with current MLS players greeting Gino Pariani, Ed Sousa, Harry Keough, Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi, the five remaining members of the 1950 team, and then segues into the memories of the wonderfully named Dent McSkimming, the St. Louis reporter who paid his own way to Brazil and was the only member of the US media to cover the US games against Spain, England and Chile.

From the St. Louis sequences necessary to build the back stories of several players, the movie shifts to New York, where the Missouri contingent meets up with the rest of their team and in a game shown played in a downpour, get slaughtered by an English team touring the USA captained by Wilf Mannion, who will also lead England in Brazil.

The whole things ends on a triumphant note with the win in Belo Horizonte, although the US had already played Spain and lost 3-1 and were set to face Chile, a game they lost 5-2.

The film succeeds on a number of levels, starting with the locations, which are all genuine.

“That was something I insisted on,” said Anspaugh. “If they weren’t ready to send me (to St. Louis), then I wasn’t interested in doing the movie. You can’t find somewhere that looks like The Hill anywhere else. I said if you show it to me somewhere then I‘ll consider it, but they couldn’t find anywhere.

“The same with Brazil. I wasn’t writing the check, so I was grateful for the money put forward to make the movie, but we insisted on authenticity.”

In another authentic touch, the equipment worn and used by the players is faithful to the period, the heavy leather lace-up ball and high-top boots with nailed-on cleats. No shin pads.

“For the first two weeks in St. Louis, we had nothing but playing scheduled,” noted Anspaugh. “You have no idea of the hardship these guys went through, not just in the sweltering heat, but they all wore the authentic boots that players wore back then. There were a lot of bloody feet every day.”

Scotsman Gerard Butler, who plays Italian-American goalkeeper Borghi, echoed the director’s sentiments.

“I have to tell you that this was a tough movie and the boots were probably the least of it,” said the actor with a laugh, “Not for me because I’m made of steel, but the rest of the guys were always bitching about something or other."

Fear of injuries were something that Anspaugh had to deal with daily while in St. Louis. Butler - who is in a majority of the scenes, along with Wes Bentley, who plays team captain Bahr - suffered back spasms and Zach Bryan missed some of the World Cup sequence because of injury

“In two weeks straight shooting, you are always walking a thin line on the risk of injury,” the director said. “If any one of them had a major, or even minor injury, then you could be face with the unthinkable of shutting down production or even recasting and re-shooting and we didn’t have that luxury.”

Many of the actors have genuine soccer experience, Bryan was ODP, while Costas Mandylor played for Panathiniakos in Greece before taking up acting and several of the cast make regular appearances with Hollywood United, and this all adds up to realistic soccer sequences.

“Any sport is difficult to shoot, but soccer is especially difficult,” said Anspaugh. “In football or basketball, in which we had experience, we could choreograph certain things to appear realistic, but soccer is so moment-to-moment and spontaneous; the ball can go anywhere at any time.

“Pretty much what you see on film is the guys playing openly, and that ate up lots of film. Probably only 10-15% was choreographed for story points.”

So while soccer purists may find things to pick on in the movie - mine is the use of the British flag for England - on the whole, it’s an enjoyable experience and one that can be appreciated by soccer and non-soccer fans alike.

Rated PG, The Game of Their Lives opens in selected cities April 22


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SIDEBAR
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"What are they saying?"

Actor Gerard Butler recalls that that cinematic choreography led to misunderstandings in soccer-mad Brazil, as the erstwhile US team played Brazilian players of English and German descent cast as England.

“When we did the scenes where the English were attacking, we had to make sure that they always had the ball,” said Butler. “If we took it from them, we had to give it back right away. The fans didn’t understand that, they just thought it was really bad soccer.

“We were playing in front of 4,000 of some of the toughest fans in the world, getting carried away and having fun, and they kept shouting the same thing over and over again and we were all going 'Yeah, yeah, thanks'

" Halfway through the day I asked one of the assistant directors ’What are they shouting?’, he told that it meant ‘Faggots‘.”