FORGIVE ME when I say this, those among you with your hearts and minds invested in the stuff, but seriously: When is the rest of the world going to realize that Americans will never give a shit about professional soccer? Our loss, I'm sure, but let's be real for a minute: We've got our own senseless and barbaric social distractions to inject a sense of meaning into our trivial little lives, and frankly, they're just better than yours. (As usual.) Which is why it's hard to imagine how a movie about English football (more specifically, about something as impossibly parochial as an English football manager—or "coach," for those of us in the real world) could possibly hope to capture the attention of your average American moviegoer. In the case of The Damned United, that might actually be a shame.
Continuing the esteemed collaboration of screenwriter Peter Morgan and lead actor/parody of English-ness Michael Sheen (whose partnership has heretofore birthed Oscar contenders The Queen and Frost/Nixon), The Damned United traces some six years in the career of Brian Clough, an obsessive, charismatic, and apparently legendary manager whose reckless ambition and arrogance fuel the film's uniquely hapless arc. Though Sheen's nuanced and nervy Clough deserves most of the glory for keeping the ship afloat, to Morgan's credit the script manages to steer admirably clear of most sports movie clichés. Certainly, The Damned United contains improbable success stories, ragtag misfits (though, revealingly, the players scarcely carry more than a handful of lines between them), and the inevitable high stakes "Big Game"—but they're all shifted in such a way that the overall tone is less of meteoric group achievement, and more of one man's grand collapse. And thanks to the benefit of our country's continued cultural myopia, it's refreshingly free of traditional biopic foresights. So, you know... America wins again. (BIG SURPRISE.)