Friday, January 25, 2013

The Damned United. B+

Brian Clough, the legendary British football manager, won championships with Nottingham Forest in 1979 and 1980. A film interested in a more typical sports drama might depict that triumph. But instead screenwriter Peter Morgan, working from a book by David Peace, tells a much more unconventional and far more interesting story in Clough's life, namely his stint as manager of Derby County and then his switch to their rival, Leeds United. The movie opens with Clough (played by Michael Sheen in yet another great role as a famous British figure after appearing as Tony Blair in The Queen and David Frost in Frost/Nixon) arriving  in Leeds and taking part in a television interview in which he pours heavy criticism on his new team under their previous manager, Don Revie. This begins Clough's disastrous 44-day stint with Leeds in which he takes winning club to the pit and looses respect, key friendship, and all peace of mind. Watching Sheen inhabit Clough and the rage and frustration that builds up inside him is thrilling. What a great actor he is. Yet the thing about Clough is that even when he was having success in Derby County, he was still a man with the fire and intensity of several. The movie shows us this in skillfully played flashbacks where we see his emotions ruling him out of the job. The Damned United was directed by Tom Hooper of The King's Speech and Les Miserables, his first major film after a long run in television (including the acclaimed John Adams). I hope he keeps making such refined British productions, and personally wouldn't mind seeing him make a few more pictures with Peter Morgan. This movie is a solid sports story, but more importantly it's a vital piece of British history. With football being as big as it is over there, Clough's story is legendary, one that every Englishman knows of the same way Chicagoans know about the black sox scandal or Bostonians the curse of Ruth. 

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