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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.78%
Worth A Look: 5.56%
Just Average66.67%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Miracle Match, The
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by Robert Flaxman

"Underplayed underdog drama."
3 stars

Despite the fact that hockey is something of a niche sport in the United States, just about everyone who follows sports to even a slight degree could tell you about the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The story was even made into a pretty good movie last year. By comparison, there are probably a minimal number of sports fans, even die-hards, who could tell you anything about a game that was arguably a bigger upset, the United States’ 1-0 defeat of England in the 1950 World Cup. Sadly, while The Game of Their Lives at least gets the story out, it lacks much punch or drama as a film.

There are actually quite a number of parallels between the 1950 World Cup and the 1980 Winter Olympics where Americans are concerned, as the movies tell us. In both cases the American team was composed primarily of amateurs with a minimal amount of time to practice as a team (the soccer team had a mere ten days before the Cup). In both cases the team defeated was a heavy favorite (many bookmakers did not even list the U.S.-England game, so conceded was the result) made up of professional players, and in both cases the U.S. team had lost an exhibition game to the same nation prior to the actual competition. (In The Game of Their Lives the loss actually comes to a squad of second-team English professionals who, with the exception of captain Stanley Mortensen, were not good enough to make the actual World Cup team.) Both opponents featured a player widely considered to be the best in the world at the time.

Of course, there are also a number of factors contributing to why the 1950 win is not well-remembered. The extra three decades, the lack of television (or indeed any significant media) coverage at the time, the lack of home-field advantage (the 1950 Cup took place in Brazil), and the fact that the Americans won just the one game (in fact, they had already lost to Spain at the time of the England win, something totally glossed over by the film).

Unfortunately, The Game of Their Lives isn’t likely to contribute much to awareness of the upset it chronicles. For one thing, it’s gotten less ad space than your average Disney direct-to-video animated sequel. But more importantly, it just isn’t all that good. Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo have experience telling stories like this – they’re the same team behind Hoosiers and Rudy, both sports underdog stories that have substantial followings – but this time they were unable to live beyond their means. The film was shot in 49 days for just $13 million – films, and good ones, have been shot for less, but not with a story of this scope.

Anspaugh, in an interview with ESPN.com, stated that he would have preferred not to make the movie if $13 million was all that was available, and that Pizzo talked him into it by saying that more money would come through (it didn’t). Their hearts were in the right place, but the budget constraints show in pretty much every part of the film.

Rather than allowing much time for setup, Anspaugh and Pizzo lean on a rather cheesy framing device in which veteran reporter Dent McSkimming (Patrick Stewart, who is a fine narrator but about 30 years too young for the role) is asked to tell the story. He does, but the result is a quick-and-dirty rundown of the skills of the players on whom the narrative focuses, minimal (and not all that well-acted) backstory, and then a zip through the plot as quickly as possible, with the film being sure to hit all the sports movie clichés on the way.

In some respects, The Game of Their Lives plays like a film that concentrated its energy on a couple scenes it believed to be important and didn’t much care how well it filled in the gaps. There is genuine power – even in the well-worn milieu of the sports film – in a few scenes, particularly one in which several players climb off a bus to walk back to their hotel in a show of solidarity and a key scene in which the team is presented with their official national uniforms.

The polished emotions of such scenes only serve to underscore what’s wrong with the rest of the film, however. In particular, the footage of the England game is rather awkwardly assembled, as though Anspaugh was simply trying to get enough to fill the time. There is no dramatic buildup to the goal that ends up sending the U.S. to victory – however cliché it might be to ramp up the drama at critical times, it’s an important part of a sports film. That the game of its title feels almost like an afterthought does not speak well to the film’s storytelling abilities.

In the end, the story more or less comes across, and while some details are fudged here and there (as is typical for a film based on actual events), the viewer at least gets a general sense of how it went. Still, the film plays closer to a made-for-TV docudrama than a real movie, with its obviously cobbled together game scenes and over-reliance on narrators (a BBC radio announcer provides most of the soundtrack during the crucial game). Perhaps Anspaugh realized all too well that he didn’t have the resources to make a great movie and just tried to make a good bit of educational film instead; still, given the obvious hints of a great movie poking through, one wishes he’d been able to convert the whole thing.

It’s difficult to say that the United States’ win, however much of an upset, had any impact on the perception of soccer in America. After all, there was no real professional league in the U.S. until 1967, and to this day most people probably still don’t know that the U.S. even played in the World Cup in 1950, let alone won a game. If The Game of Their Lives at least educates people about the history of soccer in this country, it will have done its job. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have done that job a little better.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11928&reviewer=385
originally posted: 04/26/05 20:36:43
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User Comments

1/09/16 Raoul moreno Awesome film great storyline down to home feel good and honest movie 5 stars
11/27/05 Brennan Giesler Movie was good, but only promoted in a few cities. I was at the STL Premier. Need DVD copy. 5 stars
6/23/05 Lucy Such a good movie 5 stars
4/28/05 Commie Ruskie Nothing a powerful as cold war team sports 4 stars
4/28/05 shanika I thank thats a good/bad thing. 5 stars
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  22-Apr-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 12-Sep-2006



Directed by
  David Anspaugh

Written by
  Angelo Pizzo

  Wes Bentley
  Gerard Butler
  John Rhys-Davies
  Patrick Stewart

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