Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Damned United

The Damned United (2009)
Biography, Sports, Drama, 98 minutes
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent

If you grew up in England in the 70s or 80s, you'll understand that Brian Clough was something of a legend. His career as a footballer saw him score goals at a higher ratio than any other player in England, before an ACL injury forced him to retire. At the age of 30, he started a job in football management.

Clough's career began to take off when he became manager of Derby County in 1967. He brought in Peter Taylor as his assistant and the two turned the club into a successful team, gaining promotion to the top division in 1969. The title refers to Clough's hatred of Leeds United, after being snubbed by Leeds manager Don Revie during an FA Cup tie.

As unlikely as it may seem, Clough eventually went on to manage Leeds United in 1974, but he was sacked after 44 days.

The movie jumps between Clough's time at Leeds, and earlier in his career, showing events that led to his hatred of the team, and the reasons he became manager.

Director Tom Hooper treats Clough like the hero he was, but doesn't ignore the many mistakes he made during his long management career. Having grown up in the era myself, I feel that the movie does a great job creating the look and feel of the 70s. I remember many of the events, and always smile when I think of Brian Clough. He was outspoken and regarded himself as the best manager in the game. He wasn't afraid to criticize his employers, opposing managers, players, or the media. As a result, his interviews were always entertaining as he apparently didn't care what people thought of him.

Michael Sheen perfectly captures the spirit of the man, as well as the voice and the gestures. It's like watching a good impressionist with excellent acting ability. Sheen also worked with writer Peter Morgan on Frost/Nixon and The Queen, playing David Frost and Tony Blair. All three performances are noteworthy and worth your time.

Timothy Spall was a good choice for the role of Peter Taylor, and Hooper manages to convince us that the two were close friends for much of the time they worked together. Their relationship was more important than the relationships with their wives in some ways. Other notable performances come from Colm Meaney as Don Revie and Jim Broadbent as Derby County chairman, Sam Longson.

The story focuses on the effect Clough on those around him, and ends with a brief summary of what he went on to achieve. Although football is the reason all of this happened, the movie doesn't spend much time showing the players in action. It's more about management and the relationships that Clough formed with employers, colleagues, players and fans.

I can't imagine American audiences being very interested in the subject matter, but anyone who was a fan of English football in the 70s will love the nostalgic feel and the accuracy of Sheen's portrayal. It's not hard to see why Tom Hooper has been successful in recent years with The King's Speech and Les Misérables. It's clear that the man knows how to make entertaining movies.

Overall score 4/5 (for its intended audience)

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  1. I don't know much about football and never heard of Clough before seeing the movie but I really liked it. I'm a huge Michael Sheen fan and he was really amazing in this one.

    1. Yes, he was great. If you Google the real Brian Clough, you'll be amazed at how similar Sheen looked and sounded. I enjoyed The Queen and The King's Speech, even though I have no strong feelings about the royal family. If a story is told well, the subject doesn't matter too much.