To be clear, I've got nothing against sports films that exult in good sportsmanship and the triumph of the underdog and the sheer joy of human competition. The Natural? Sure. Bad News Bears? No prob. The Mighty Ducks? Let's not go crazy, now.
But to be honest, I'm more favorably inclined towards films like The Damned United, films that scrape past the noble veneer of sports, films that explore how the spirit that buoys the rise of underdogs could also, possibly, sink 'em. The film, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), is based on a novel by David Peace, a fictionalized recounting of the curious ascendancy and rapid fall of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), a soccer manager who in the '70's drove the ragtag Derby County club to a championship and then, given a chance to manage the formidable Leeds United, a team formerly run by his arch rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney), lasted all of forty-four days. If you remember Morgan's way with the ambition, ego, and desperation of powerful people and those who aspire to be, you know that this will be a brisk, sometimes funny, sometimes brutal trip.
In case you didn't recall, Sheen was Tony Baxter in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon -- he's sort of become Morgan's one-man stock company. Throw in Meaney and Spall, and add Jim Broadbent as the owner of Derby County, and you've got a cast that'd be worth seeing even if they just spent ninety minutes mopping floors. I'd even pay the Fandango ticket fee for that.
Tom Hooper spent a few minutes with us, helping to sort out fact from fiction in this story, and drawing some interesting parallels between Brian Clough's management style and the life of a director wrangling the cream of Britain's acting talent. Click on the player below to hear the interview.
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