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Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos
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by brianorndorf

"Soccer, football...it's more awesome with Puccini playing in the background"
4 stars

Soccer has never seemed as entertaining as it looks in “Once in a Lifetime,” a documentary about the rise and fall of the New York Cosmos. Lacking some important viewpoints, the film still manages to paint a delightful and educational picture of sports history when soccer was more popular than baseball and football combined.

“Once in a Lifetime” looks at the short-lived life of professional soccer in America. Fueled by hype, disco-fad mentality, and legitimate competitive excitement, the New York Cosmos piloted the charge that brought football to the U.S. for a beautiful, sweet moment in the 1970s.

Using the modern template for documentaries (fast, loud, and messy), “Lifetime” (narrated by Matt Dillon) embarks on a mission to describe the feeling of watching soccer rise from a sport most Americans didn’t care about to a phenomenon that sold out the 80,000-seat Giants Stadium at its peak. This rise to glory isn’t an easy one to tell, so directors Paul Crowder and John Dower slice off little sections of Cosmos history and take each bite slowly.

The North American Soccer League started off in 1970 as an opportunity for investors to climb aboard a rising world sport while it was still affordable to do so. Seeing the popularity of football all over the globe, these businessmen felt it was time to bring it to America, and it was met with a collective yawn. Routinely playing to crowds of mere hundreds, it took the gusto of Warner Brothers Communication honcho Steve Ross to take the Cosmos by the collar and force them into nationwide recognition. His answer? Lure arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport out of retirement with the buckets of money he craves and ride his popularity to a media tidal wave of exposure.

The story of Brazil superstar Pelé and the Cosmos is the spine that holds “Lifetime” together. Yet it’s missing Pelé. Suggested in the end credits that perhaps he requested a hefty appearance fee, Pelé is missing from the interview portions of the film, and his absence hurts “Lifetime” from attaining that comprehensive feel it desires. We see Pelé as the hero of the story; the man who brought the Cosmos (and the NASL) to the top not only on the pitch, but in the papers as well. And even though the footage shown is 30 years old, there’s still a slack-jawed relish in watching the master work the ball downfield, running around his baffled American competition like a Porsche maneuvering around a Matchbox car.

“Lifetime” follows this line of overspending for foreign talent to meet other masters of the game, such as Franz Beckenbauer and the villain of the film, the Italian monster, Giorgio Chinaglia. Still sweating a wild ego about his contributions to the Cosmos, Chinaglia is a fascinating figure, and brings some heavy structural firepower to the film with his stories and still quite potent self-image.

When keeping its scope on the game and the bewildered Americans who got their chance to be apart of sports history, “Lifetime” is satisfying documentary filmmaking.

The team has faded into obscurity, but the film reminds the viewer that the story of the Cosmos is crucial not only to the popularity of the game today, but also in the way it shaped the uneasy mix of sports and entertainment. “Once in a Lifetime” is a marvelous primer on this remarkable event in soccer history, most likely never to be seen again.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14448&reviewer=404
originally posted: 08/11/06 02:49:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2006 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/07/06 William Goss Interesting enough, but more than a little fascinated with itself. 3 stars
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  07-Jul-2006 (PG-13)



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