The Miracle Match (The Game of Their Lives)


The Miracle Match

Zachery Bryan and Wes Bentley are chagrinned to discover that nobody wants to see a movie about soccer.

(2005) True Life Sports (IFC) Gerard Butler, Wes Bentley, Patrick Stewart, John Rhys-Davies, Jay Rodan, Costas Mandylor, Louis Mandylor, Zachery Bryan, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Gavin Rossdale, Terry Kinney, Craig Hawksley, Nelson Vargas, Richard Jenik. Directed by David Anspaugh

The most popular sport in the world is what we call soccer and every other civilized nation on the globe calls football. For some reason, it just doesn’t resonate with the American psyche and for the most part, the popularity of soccer in this country has resided in the immigrant communities, particularly European and Latin American immigrants who grew up with the game in their blood.

In 1950, soccer barely registered at all to the American public but in St. Louis – particularly in the Italian enclave known as “The Hill” – it was more than a passion, it was a pastime. There were many who felt that the best soccer in the nation was being played there, especially to St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Dent McSkimming (Kinney) who covered the soccer beat for the paper. When the U.S. wangled their way into the World Cup (back then, it didn’t have the long and involved qualifying tournament), most Americans reacted with a “what’s that?” – if they reacted at all. However, McSkimming and some of the St. Louis soccer players were excited when Walter Geisling (Hawksley), one of the great promoters of soccer in this country during that era, came to town to announce try-outs for America’s first World Cup team. 

Because it had been pulled together at the last minute, the team would have little time to develop. Laconic coach Bill Jeffrey (Rhys-Davies) has two completely separate schools of play to choose from; the extremely disciplined style of the East Coast, led by Walter Bahr (Bentley) and the freewheeling style of the St. Louis Italian clubs, whose best player is goalie Frank Borghi (Butler). Somehow, the players had to figure out a way to blend their styles into something new, something stronger if they had a chance of competing. Winning a game? Not possible. They would be going up against national teams that had lived together and played together for months, with the best players in the world playing on them. When they went to Brazil, the team was hoping merely not to embarrass themselves.

As luck would have it, they were scheduled to play against the English team, the clear favorites to win the cup and a team led by the greatest player of the time, Stanley Mortensen (Rossdale). They would have to play the game of their lives to pull off the greatest upset in World Cup history, but somehow, you know what the outcome will be.

This movie was released initially as The Game of Their Lives  but when Disney released this on home video, they changed the title to The Miracle Match, possibly to distance themselves from the disastrous theatrical box office numbers. American soccer continues to be in its adolescent stages, but the American sports movie certainly has a bit more maturity to it. Ultimate underdog movies like this have been done before, in Miracle and Hoosiers (which Anspaugh also directed). One of the problems I have with a sports movie like this is that you have to get invested in the players and their off-field dramas in order to gain that rooting interest. Sadly, that never happens here. These are a bunch of cardboard cutout character types that are so blandly played that you can barely tell one from the other. Butler and Bentley gamely try their best, but they are ultimately submarined by a sub-par script. For example, the man who coaches the team, Bill Jeffrey, comes off as someone who essentially just shows up at the games. He has no insight into the game that we’re privvy to, and never seems to make any decisions regarding the team – the players do that. 

Just as bad, the soccer sequences are uniformly bad. It’s obvious the actors can’t play the game very well, and the Bend It Like Beckham sequences – which are performed by adolescent girls – come off far more realistically. While Anspaugh captures the era nicely, in the end, this is an emotionless movie that does not do well by a group of men who deserve better for one of the crowning achievements in all of sports history.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures a little known moment in U.S. Soccer history. Bentley and Butler do fine jobs in their roles.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lack of character depth and the feeling of “Haven’t we seen this before” pervades the entire film. Soccer sequences are atrocious.

FAMILY VALUES: Some mild language and thematic issues.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: In the scene of Gino and Janet’s wedding reception, the guests are played by members of the St. Louis contingent of the team, their children and grandchildren.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $388,998 on a $20m production budget; the film was a major flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Unknown

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The Boys Are Back


The Boys Are Back

A man's home is his castle; Clive Owen's home is hog heaven.

(2009) Drama (Miramax) Clive Owens, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Julia Blake, Chris Haywood, Erik Thomson, Natasha Little. Directed by Scott Hicks

Men, as a rule, are not the best parents in a husband-wife relationship. Women, who are nurturers by nature, tend to be more attuned to parenting in a general way; while that doesn’t mean that men can’t be good at it, they have a harder time being single parents than women do – again, a generalization but more or less true.

Joe Warr (Owens) hasn’t exactly been the best husband either. He had sex with Katy (Fraser), a beautiful equestrienne while married to another woman and eventually got her pregnant, leaving his wife and young son in England to be with Katy in Australia. Katy and Joe have a son, Artie (McAnulty), Joe has a job as a sportswriter and becomes one of the best in Australia, and they buy a home in a particularly idyllic meadow near Adelaide, South Australia. Life is good; Joe globe-hops attending tennis matches, swim meets and football games while Katy holds down the home front.

Then Katy gets a stomach ache which turns out to be cancer. Joe stays home to care for her but she doesn’t survive. Joe is left to care for a six-year-old son who has difficulty accepting that his mummy’s gone, and acts out in sometimes particularly venal ways. At first Joe fights Artie’s anger, being too filled with his own grief to sort out his son’s; eventually, he gives in and lets Artie do his own thing. Cannonball into a hotel bathtub? Sure! Ride on the hood of a Range Rover his dad is driving down the beach? Why not?

Then, Joe’s son Harry (MacKay) from his first marriage comes to Australia to spend time with his dad and the dynamic changes. At first, Harry doesn’t approve too much of Joe’s “Just Say Yes” philosophy of child-rearing but eventually comes around, particularly when Joe shows far more trust than his mum (Little) ever did.

However his methods don’t meet with the approval of everyone. Katy’s mom Barbara (Blake) is aghast and eventually takes steps to assume custody of Artie herself. In the meantime, Joe has met a fellow single parent, Laura (Booth) who babysits Artie from time to time and a romance begins to blossom. Still, Joe’s attempts to juggle his kids, his home and his job are beginning to run him ragged; something has to give, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. The movie got a round critical excoriating when it was released here in the states, which once again leaves me befuddled. Maybe I’m missing something, y’know? Most of the reviews I’ve read have tended to be about Joe’s parenting skills rather than about the movie. Sure, maybe you’re scoring brownie points with the P.T.A. to show your haughty disapproval of such a free-wheeling parenting style, but it’s not my job to review the choices that Joe makes – particularly since they’re based on the actual choices a real person made. I have no idea how I’d cope with a six year old boy if my wife died and left me with one. Fortunately for me, that scenario is never going to come to pass since my own son is essentially grown up. So that makes me quite frankly unqualified to render my opinion about how Joe relates to his children. I haven’t walked even a centimeter in Joe’s shoes, which is what someone who is passing judgment on a person is supposed to do. Maybe in some distant future, that will be a requirement to give an opinion on the subject.

Somehow, I doubt it however. Hicks, who helmed the Oscar-winning Shine, wisely keeps the movie from going too maudlin and keeps the relationship between Joe and his sons evolving, which is the way real relationships work. Owens gives a restrained performance here and it is nice to see him in a movie that doesn’t require him to shoot anybody, or shove a carrot through their eye socket.

The use of the Australian location is glorious and helps create an idyllic picture of the Warr home which may be a bit too idyllic in places; then again, once Joe gives up on housecleaning and the house stacks up with pizza boxes and dirty laundry, hog heaven turns into a pigsty. That has a tendency to burst an idyll or two.

I would have liked to see a different ending, to be truthful; the relationship between Joe and Laura is kind of left dangling and things are resolved in a way that is a bit pat and a bit sugary all at once. That aside, this is a genuinely affecting work that examines a rarely seen dynamic; an all-male household dealing with the loss of the lone woman in the home. That was the part that interested me the most about the movie.

Would I make the same choices Joe made in dealing with his sons? Probably not – my temperament isn’t nearly as easy-going as his. Still, it is a rather novel way of dealing with the situation, and if the movie gets a little testy about those who disagree with Joe’s methods, well judging on the critical reaction the movie got it might be well-earned.

WHY RENT THIS: This is one of Owens’ most genuine performances and Hicks resists the temptation to turn this into an out-and-out tearjerker.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending is a bit pat, while the relationship between Joe and Laura is left essentially unresolved.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has its share of foul words, many of them sexually related. The theme might be a little too mature for some.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The nine Sigur Ros songs used in the film were originally meant to be placeholders for the score; however, Hicks felt so strongly that the songs worked better than any score that could be written that he travelled to Iceland personally to get permission to use the songs in the final film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Author Simon Carr, whose story this is based on, and his two sons, spent a day on the set. There’s a featurette that follows them around as they try to wrap their heads around the idea that a movie is being made about their life.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.2M on an unreported production budget; the film was likely not profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Fired Up