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The Damned United
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From the Academy Award-nominated writer of The Queen and Frost/Nixon, The Damned United is based on the incredible true story of Brian Clough, one of England’s greatest soccer managers and his 44 controversial days at the helm of reigning champs Leeds United. Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and Twilight Saga: New Moon) triumphs as Clough starring alongside a winning ensemble cast that includes Timothy Spall (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Colm Meaney (Layer Cake) and Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). This inspiring and humorous sports drama is about the power of friendship in the face of adversity and the stubborn will of one man to play by his own rules.
You don't have to like football (or soccer, as we call it in the U.S.) to enjoy The Damned United, because this sharp, funny movie isn't about sports any more than Citizen Kane is about running a newspaper. The Damned United is about ego--specifically, the large and driven ego of Brian Clough (Michael Sheen), the manager of a low-rung football team who, along with his assistant Peter Taylor (the always superb Timothy Spall, Secrets & Lies), brought his team to the top rank. At which point Clough self-destructed, even as he seemed to be given the keys to even greater heights: he was hired as the new manager of Leeds United, perhaps the strongest team in England, replacing his longtime rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). The Damned United bounces back and forth in time, deftly laying out Clough's rise and fall, transforming a man who initially seems an unbearable, domineering jerk into someone you feel for deeply. After Frost/Nixon and The Queen, Sheen practically specializes in playing real people, but his performance here is utterly stellar, by turns brilliantly comic and subtly moving. The movie lets the relationship between Clough and Taylor unspool organically, until the love and anger between them starts to fray and collapse. This is a riveting and ultimately invigorating story, psychologically compelling and with more twists and turns than a crime thriller. Simply a great movie. --Bret Fetzer
Stills from The Damned United (Click for larger image)
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Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary
Cloughisms with Optional Director's Commentary
Perfect Pitch: The Making Of The Damned United
Creating Clough: Michael Sheen Takes on 'Old Big 'Ead'
The Changing Game: Football in the Seventies
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The movie is a triumph of soccer history (some of it may have been dramatized) and on a greater scale, the human condition. The Damned United stands up to multiple viewings, and Michael Sheen's acting is so fine in the first 10 minutes that it completely sucks you in.
Brian Clough is Britain's most celebrated soccer coach, because he worked magic with lowly teams repeatedly. Except one. Sheen channels what I imagine Clough would be like with incredible chops.
Can't say enough about it, even if you're not a fan of soccer.
For those of you non-british folk, there are a couple of weird things that took me a bit to figure out:
1) "Darby county" is spelled Derby County. "Darby" is how the british pronounce "Derby". You'll hear it on any modern soccer broadcast between Man U and Man City for instance.
2) Majorca (pronounced in the movie "me-york-a") is a vacation getaway popular with Britons. Think of it like Bermuda for Americans.
Michael Sheen is compelling to watch. As Tony Blair I would have taken him for the real guy. As David Frost not so much, although a good job.
Clough was such a larger than life character in real life - the Ali mouth of English soccer and, like Ali he could back up the comments with results. But this movie goes beyond a documentary exposing the complexities of Clough's character. It shows the humanity and frailty of his emotions whether it's risking everything in challenging his nemesis or realizing, almost too late, how the beautiful game requires a team not just an individual
You needn't know of Leeds United, 1970's-era English football, or even manager Brian Clough to adore this film. Morgan's screenplay (based on David Peace's novel) creates a most compelling triangulation of adult male friendships and rivalries.
Clough (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) adores his dutiful right-hand man, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), while despising his rival Don Revie (Colm Meaney). When he takes over for Revie (who leaves Leeds to coach the English national team), Clough's on-the-field failures lead to a falling out with his friend.
UNITED is a joyride of a sports film. There is the thrill of competition and the agony of defeat, of course...made all the more so by the inner turmoil that drives the talented Clough, who is haunted by father-figures from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Sheen's performance here could have been just brash and cold, yet it is his portrayal of Clough's desperation and vulnerability that gives this film a beating heart and a loving soul.
THE DAMED UNITED is classic Tom Hooper in that way; damnable famous men resized to next-door neighbor scale.
Clough's definition of success is not the same as Revie's, nor are his personnel skills. It's this constant battle to impose a new culture that follows a winning culture that has challenged many a managers - the results are never the same, some often leading to total capitulation.
Fantastic acting, realistic, meticulous care in ensuring the players look like the 70s legends. So enjoyable I had to watch it twice.