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The Game of Their Lives Review by iFMagazine

Category: The Game of Their Lives Reviews
Article Date: April 22, 2005 | Publication: iFMagazine | Author: ABBIE BERNSTEIN
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There’s a very slight hint of schizophrenia to THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES. Set mainly in 1950 – with occasional cuts to a present-day framing device – GAME concerns one of those sports stories about a match so startling that even viewers with no interest in the sport can get swept up in the drama of the situation. Then again, there are times when director David Anspaugh and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo seem to be striving to imbue the events they depict with more significance than the situation rationally supports.

Reporter Dent McSkimming (played in the present by Patrick Stewart and in the ‘50s sections by Terry Kinney) is interviewed about the World Cup 1950 game in Brazil, when the United States, with no official team, hastily threw one together in St. Louis, melding together the somewhat patrician Walter Bahr (Wes Bentley) and the disciplined players he’s used to and talented, boisterous neighborhood types who look to Frank Borghi (Gerard Butler) for leadership. Initially, Borghi’s friends are suspicious of Bahr, but when appeals are made to their desire to play and their patriotism – and when they’re goaded by contemptuous English champ Stanley Mortensen (Gavid Rossdale) – the group coalesces into a functioning unit. However, the odds against ten days of training translating into holding their own against the English team in the first game in Brazil seem impossibly long.

The tale has a lot of intrinsically gripping elements, along with some humorous ones – apocryphal or not, a subplot about a player torn between being on the team and keeping to his scheduled wedding date is charming, while the class tensions among the players are explored with reasonable dexterity. The careful détente between Bahr and Borghi, who quickly each recognize what the other has to offer, is illustrated intelligently. Kudos here to both Butler and Bentley, who are both so full of life and contained yet palpable intensity that they make us feel how important the situation is to their characters, even in scenes where they say little or nothing. Butler is particularly impressive as the athletically brilliant Borghi, fearlessly flinging himself around (Anspaugh’s framing takes pains to show us it’s the actor rather than a double) to grab the ball no matter where it’s headed or how hard he must fall in the process.

As the film emphasizes, many of the Americans are WWII veterans, some still suffering from combat-induced stress. So much is made of this fact by Pizzo’s screenplay that we wait in vain for the filmmakers to make some connection between the men’s battlefield experiences and their ability to rise to the occasion on the playing field. There are places where GAME appears to be striving to give us this link, but beyond telling us repeatedly what the members of the U.S. team did for their country – there’s even a sequence where all appropriate personnel are listed by military rank – we never get a sense of how the war translates into their ability to band together. Being a good soldier doesn’t necessarily mean a man will later be a good team player or even a good athlete – there are places where GAME seems to mistake patriotic exposition for psychological nuance.

Still, the occasional heavy-handedness is trumped by fine acting and the truly thrilling game sequences, helmed by Anspaugh with a sense of real immediacy and suspense. We find ourselves progressively caught up in wanting to see the U.S. team do better and Anspaugh invites empathy, putting us in the middle of the field with the sweating, striving, hellaciously determined players. THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES does what good sports movies should do – it makes even non-sports fans become invested in what goes into the game and to genuinely care about the outcome.

 


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