Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Damned United: One Thing 'Leeds' To Another

Movie Review

The Damned United

Last night, I saw a special showing of The Damned United, presented by the After Hours Film Society at the beautiful old Tivoli theater in Downers Grove. The British film had a very limited run in Chicago last fall, which I was sorry to have missed, and won't be out on DVD until Feb. 23, so I was quite pleased to catch it in support of a fine organization utilizing a wonderful venue.

Ostensibly, it is a movie about English league soccer and specifically a brief episode in the coaching career of Brian Clough, who became iconic in England for his success before and after his disastrous 44-day stint as manager of Leeds United in 1974, on which the film centers. But even if you're clueless about Clough (pronouned "cluff"), as I was, and don't give a hoot about "football" (as the Brits call it), sports of any kind or Anglopology, you still should very much like this movie, as did most of the audience across both genders at the after-show discussion.

First of all, it features a fabulous performance by Michael Sheen, who seems to be making a career out of playing British icons (Tony Blair in "The Queen;" David Frost in "Frost/Nixon") when he isn't playing vampires (supporting roles in the Underworld series and Twilight: New Moon). And while quite an interesting character study in its own right, and ultimately much more about ego, ambition and friendship than about soccer, The Damned United can be seen in a similar light to three other recent films by its screenwriter, Peter Morgan: The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland. Though Clough certainly isn't as famous and/or wretched as Queen Elizabeth, Richard Nixon or Idi Amin, his story, as told here, has rather interestingly parallels as a parable about hubris.

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