Film Review – The Damned United
Having caught World Cup fever this summer, it put me in the mood for a compelling Futbol movie, and I found just that in watching The Damned United.
This film is based on the true story of the disastrous 1974 season when the British Leeds Football Club had their worst opening to a season in the teams history due to friction with the new club Manager Brian Clough. Leeds was England’s best at the time. But since England had not qualified for the previous World Cup, they promoted the reigning champion Manager Don Revie (played by Colm Meany), and back filled his position with rising star Clough. From then on, watching the new manager’s well-meaning mishandling of his new team is like watching a slow moving train wreck. It ends up quite moving and heartbreaking.
Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough. He has been building an outstanding career as of late. He’s played former Prime Minister Tony Blair in both The Queen and The Special Relationship, he was outstanding as David Frost in Frost/Nixon, he’s had a funny recurring role on 30 Rock, and unfortunately most people in the U.S. may know him as the leader of the evil Volturi in the Twilight movies. Most of these roles seem to have him as a character whose slow burn is caused by being in a situation out of his depth. This movie continues that trend.
In flashbacks we are shown how Clough brought his underdog team in Derby County up through the divisions to be the number one team in England. And he was proud of a style of clean, fair play. Meanwhile, his ambition betrays this mission of creating a wholesome game. He becomes increasingly obsessed with showing up Revie to the point that it ruins his relationship with his partner Peter Taylor (played with good natured heart by Timothy Spall), and ultimately ruins his career.
I am not a sports fan at all, but this movie is a fascinating display of how personalities impose themselves on the sport itself. What is unique here is this ultimately is a loser’s story. No big game to save the day at the end, no rousing speech to a crowd that respects and adores him, just the messy and realistic results of how things can go so horribly wrong. Highly recommended.