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Damned United, The (DVD Review)

22 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 2/23/10
Sony Pictures
Box Office $0.4 million
$28.96 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language.
Stars Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent.

Writer Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen have enjoyed a fruitful run check-listing their way through Brit-celeb screen portraits of all stripes, first with Prime Minister Tony Blair (in The Deal and The Queen) and then TV figure David Frost (Frost/Nixon).

Now comes this unusual sports biopic about the late soccer coach Brian Clough, who enjoyed substantial success over a long career — but not a whole lot of it in this movie. Or at least not when it really counts.

The result suggests what it might be like for someone to concoct an early-1960s period piece about the New York Yankees — but to ignore several pockets of glory for 1965, when the Yanks slipped to an unheard-of sixth place (and 25 games back) under a new manager.

Though United’s plot mechanics whiplash us between the late-’60s through the mid-’70s, the dominant focus is on Clough (Sheen) taking over the Leeds United club from coaching near-deity Don Revie (Colm Meaney) and instantly alienating and grinding down a formerly tight team.

Wives and women in general remain in the background or in party scenes, but the male relationships are complex. We see Clough stew in his juices for years over a perceived Revie slight following a contest earlier in their careers — one that Revie probably doesn’t even remember. Clough is smart enough to know how much his fortunes depend on his right-hand sidekick Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) — but never stops to think that Taylor may not be so anxious to see his own ship go down as a result of Clough’s intemperate comments. 

There is, however, nothing complex about Clough’s relationship with the skinflint chairman of the team he coaches more successfully early in his career (Jim Broadbent, notably altering his appearance simply wearing a man’s hat, jacket and tie). He hates him.

Sheen, who looks nothing like the real Clough, generates some chuckles playing an often exasperating pain who’s easily his own worst enemy — as when he orders the Leeds team, sans even a grain of coaching diplomacy, to start playing like gentlemen when they became champs in the first place by rearranging opponents’ knees.

In fact, a movie that’s otherwise on the high side of mild is, in fact, made by its all-star lineup of some of the current screen’s most recognizable character actors: Sheen, Spall, Meaney and Broadbent (whose character’s stinginess would give the team miser Strother Martin plays in Slap Shot a run for the money we sense they both hide in an envelope under their mattress).

In addition to commentary by Sheen, director Tom Hooper and producer Andy Harries, the extras look at the real Clough and soccer in the 1970s.

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