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Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Damned United, 2009 - Movie Review

Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent
Running Time: 97 minutes

This review by mredrew.

I watched this film at a preview screening and although there were no trailers, the film more than made up for it. Based on the popular book of the same name, the film charts the early career of the legendary and outspoken Football Manager Brian Clough. It simultaneously contrasts Clough's rise to glory as Manager of Derby County in the late sixties, with his disastrous subsequent appointment at local rivals Leeds United lasting only forty-four days.

Brought to the screen by a similar team as 'Frost/Nixon', it stars: Welsh actor Michael Sheen as Brian Clough; Timothy Spall as his long-suffering assistant manager and best friend Peter Taylor; Jim Broadbent as the snooty Derby County chairman, 'Uncle' Sam Longson and Colin Meaney as Clough's idol-turned-rival, former Leeds Manager Don Revie. British gems, the lot of them! Famous players are well represented in the cast, most notably by Stephen Graham as former Leeds Captain Billy Bremner.

Michael Sheen's Brian Clough is an entertaining, arrogant but likable character with self-destructive flaws. Obviously he has the best lines (unfortunately many of which feature in the trailer) and some of his best scenes are with Timothy Spall's Peter Taylor, who's friendship is severely tested as the events unfurl. Clough's vulnerability and insecurities are explored in his relationship with Taylor and the audience learn that only as a team do they conquer English football. Clough's apparent hatred for Revie stems from being snubbed by the latter at an early Cup match. This experience drives Clough's ambition to not only succeed, but to attempt to eclipse the architect of Leeds United's 'Golden Age'. Along the way we learn about the now familiar friction between the Manager and the Chairman, the task of signing players and the universal theme of pride coming before a fall (there's a football pun in there).

Set in the late sixties/early seventies and seamlessly interspersing the action with real footage and interviews, this film enables the audience to embrace the spirit of the times and appreciate the simplicity of 'the good old days' whilst still going on a journey with laughs and tension throughout. As with 'Frost/Nixon' the story caters for people with very little prior knowledge of the subject matter and as such, it can be enjoyed by football fans, history fans and film fans alike. Plus there isn't a huge amount of actual ball kicking by the cast, so people won't switch off. There is an obligatory montage, but it's nicely done and over quickly.

The only downside to this film is that it's a little bit short if anything, but it leaves you wanting more which can only be a good thing. There's a mild bit of comical swearing throughout, which is justified (and probably even toned down) given the situations the lead characters face.

To sum up, I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed 'Frost Nixon', Biopics, Football or quintessentially British films. This film isn't my favourite of the 2009, but is definitely getting a Champions League spot!

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