Rated R for language, 97 minutes
"The Damned United" an enjoyable, winning British sports movie
Those in the United States will be pleased to know that there are other sports that exist outside of American football or baseball (try telling them that on a weekend in the fall, though). "The Damned United" is an enjoyable, winning sports movie about the hugely popular sport of soccer in England. A largely fictionalized account of the brief tenure of manager Brian Clough of the Leeds United team in 1974, it's well-written, well-acted and charming enough to please those that have little knowledge of the sport.
Previously managed by his bitter rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney), and on the back of their most successful period ever as a football club, Leeds was perceived by many to represent a new aggressive and cynical style of football - an anathema to the principled yet flamboyant Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), who had achieved astonishing success as manager of the Hartlepool and Derby County teams and building them in his own vision with trusted lieutenant Peter Taylor (familiar "Harry Potter" actor Timothy Spall). Taking the Leeds job without Taylor and with a club still regarded as Don's boys, would lead to an unheralded examination of Clough’s belligerence and brilliance over just 44 days.
"The Damned United" is an engaging, entertaining sports movie based on the fictional best-selling novel "The Damned Utd," with a dark but often amusing tone. The material is well executed by British TV director Tom Hooper, even if many across the pond will complain that it didn't go down this way. What is interesting about "The Damned United" is that is provides details of the management of a soccer team, something that many in the United States are unfamiliar with. Politics, heated rivalries and bickering are as much a part of soccer as just about any sport.
However, the center of "The Damned United" is brash, outspoken Clough, played with panache and skill by Sheen, who's again teamed with screenwriter Peter Morgan, writer of "The Queen" and last year's "Frost/Nixon," who again impressively tackles real-life folks and events, making them easily accessible to movie audiences. Clough isn't exactly portrayed as a sympathetic character during this time with Leeds (but then who was), but those familiar with the sport in England will know that he went on to far greater success after his 44-day stint with Leeds.
Also memorable in "The Damned United" are well-known British character actors Spall as Clough's close but wise friend who didn't accompany him to Leeds, Meaney as Clough's rival Revie and Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent in a small part as one of the club's owners. The film is jumpy and uneven as it goes back and forth in time, switching from Leeds to some of other Clough's prior experience in Derby and other places, which could lose those that are already unfamiliar with soccer. However, the best scene comes in the film's last act, when Clough and Revie finally meet on national television to discuss their differences, a humorous exchange (the expressions of both men tell how they really feel) you won't easily forget.
The game scenes in "The Damned United" provide much of the film's energy and charm, not to mention an excellent performance from Sheen. Even if you don't know much about soccer, "The Damned United" scores and ends up a winner, recommended for Sheen's performance alone. Stay over for the credits to see the real-life characters.