The Damned United (B+)

The Damned UnitedI’ve never been this fascinated by the English and their love and passion for football as I am now. Tom Hooper’s adaptation of David Peace’s fictional account of the trials and tribulations of the enigmatic Brian Clough, The Damned United, is enough for me to give the sport I’ve never bothered about a try.

Football always seemed like a distant and cold sport to me. With its stadiums so large and its fans so wild, I never really connected to the sport. It always seemed like another world to me, halfway around the globe in some far off European town. I guess Filipino fans of football will see me as some lunatic – the only thing I ever knew about football was David Beckham and Manchester United and that glorious chorus of a commercial I always come across when flipping through Star Sports.

Tom Hooper works wonders with Frost/Nixon and The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan in unravelling a very personal story deep within the rowdiness of English football.

Michael Sheen, sadly best known for his roles in vampire flicks Underworld and the upcoming Twilight: New Moon (and should rather be held in esteem for his charismatic turn as David Frost in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon), is absolutely near-flawless in his portrayal of the true-to-life successful and controversial football manager Brian Clough. After leading Derby County all the way to the top of the 1st division in the early 1970s, Clough is daunted by the task of taking over Leeds Utd., a bitter rival he’s criticized over the years.

Though not factually reliable, The Damned United has much to be proud of, most especially its simplicity and effectivity in recounting Clough’s life and in its ability to efficiently wrap its audience around its main character. The film owes much to its lead actor for this as well as his talented supporting cast lead by Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, The Last Samurai) and Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge!).

Sheen bears an uncanny resemblance to the late Brian Clough, who is seamlessly added into the film via archival footage – he appears to channel this natural charisma and slight arrogance in many of his roles. Clough on the other hand is idealistic yet stubborn, brilliant yet flawed, characteristics of a young and promising tragic hero. There’s just something here, about his complex character, that can simply strike at your heartstrings, whether a football fan or not.

The Damned United is undoubtedly a gem in the sports drama genre.

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