(Danny Cannon, USA, 2005)


Goal! proves one thing beyond doubt – that if you want to make a feel-good sports movie with oomph, it is essential to fill an entire stadium with an enthusiastic crowd of cheering extras.

Goal! was made with the full co-operation of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) – and it shows. The game scenes have a scope and realism missing from most similar films, which try to "trick up" the crowd effect with more modest resources. Even better news is that director Danny Cannon manages to strike a workable compromise between clarity and kinetic pace in how he presents the on-field action – avoiding the extremes of boredom or delirium that scuttle many sports films.

Story-wise, Goal! is pure Billy Elliot-style sentimental schmaltz – but it works. Santiago (Kuno Becker) is a small-time player in a depressed area of Los Angeles. He has a head full of football dreams, but no opportunity to pursue them – and the fierce working-class ethic of his father, Herman (Tony Plana), forbids any such social climbing.

Enter another salt-of-the-earth character, ex-player Glen (Stephen Dillane) from the UK. He sees something special in Santiago, and moves heaven and earth to get him a try-out for Newcastle United. From there, the road to fame is one big slog – sweetened, of course, with occasional temptations.

Like most sports movies these days, Goal! deals with the lure of celebrity and easy money. The decadence that comes with instant stardom is concentrated in the unlovely Gavin (Alessandro Nivola), and the market-driven values that have swamped sport are embodied in a wheeler-dealer manager, Barry (Sean Pertwee). But the wholesome counterbalance to all this is Santaigo’s no-nonsense girlfriend, Roz (Anna Friel) – even if her "don’t betray your working class roots" spiel sounds suspiciously like Herman’s repressive dogma.

Goal! ultimately works itself out as a story of father and son – and, on this level, the film leaves scarcely a dry eye in the house.

Cannon (Judge Dredd,1995) took over the directorial reins on this project after Michael Winterbottom reportedly pulled out early in production. Cannon is a relatively conventional filmmaker, but he has done his best work here. And I am glad he avoided the overkill on "you are there" devices like handheld camerawork and chaotic staging which Winterbottom would surely have delivered.

Goal! is the first volley of a trilogy. Such an ambition is one that has crossed the mind of every sport-obsessed filmmaker: to shoot a fictional movie before, during, in and around an actual World Cup. I, for one, hope this series makes it all the way.

© Adrian Martin February 2006

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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