Damned Brilliant, 29 March 2009
Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom
Football has been poorly served by the cinema to date. “The Damned United” goes a long way to rectifying that. A bravura performance from Martin Sheen as Brian Clough and a faithful, intelligent screenplay by Peter Morgan combine with a well chosen storyline to deliver a convincing tale. Crucially, this is not a film about football, it uses football as a framework for ambition, greed, success, failure, friendship and love.
The traditional traps surrounding a football film are avoided. “Live” action is limited, and team sequences brief. Consequently the characters are given a chance to breathe and develop , not just Clough’s, but those of Peter Taylor, marvellously captured by Timothy Spall, and others . Chairmen Manny Cousins and Sam Longson enjoy rewarding cameo parts and the footballers themselves are picked as actors rather than surrogate footballers.
Critics may carp about the odd anachronism and unconvincing physical shape of the Leeds United team in particular but it is the ego of Brian Clough which bestrides this story. The 90 minutes barely does justice to his 45 days at Leeds as his career up to the appointment is interwoven into the main tale. Although faction is a dangerous device, for me it does justice to both the lovingly recreated era and the characters. Cloughs family have apparently repudiated this work, which is a shame. It is broadly favourable with the wrinkles as foibles rather than damnable weaknesses.
The film closes with a re-creation of the YTV interview with Clough and Revie sitting side by side immediately following Clough’s dismissal. The atmosphere is electric, Clough is surprisingly conciliatory whilst Revie delivers an, “I told you so”, tour de force. Echoes of the Sheen/Morgan collaboration Frost / Nixon abound as does the repeated device of the late night telephone call from the arch protagonists, this time Clough to Revie, last time Nixon to Frost. The final reconciliation between Clough and Taylor is as brave a depiction of a male platonic relationship as has been screened for a very long time.
A triumph for all concerned