I know a lot about sports movies because Ken Hanke always makes me review them. I know every cliche in the genre and can predict to the minute the arrivals of plot twists that will challenge the heroic underdog. I can recite word-for-word the dialogue of the no-nonsense coach, the critical parent, the bad-player-who-turns-out-to-be-good, and most especially, the supportive girlfriend/wife/mother/grandmother.
That’s why I was astonished at how much I liked Goal! It wasn’t just that the rags-to-riches soccer tale had so many of the genre’s cliches, making it comfortably familiar. It’s because the film makes the cliches achieve mythic grandeur, using exquisite cinematography, a foot-stomping soundtrack and a scope so dramatically international it was positively inspirational.
For soccer addicts, the movie provides thrilling action, ranging from eye-banging close-ups of kicked soccer balls to panoramic shots of real games in enormous English soccer stadiums. (Added pluses are cameos from soccer stars David Beckman, Zinedine Zidane, Raul and Newcastle United captain Alan Shearer.) If you don’t like soccer, the movie has likeable, yet unlikely, actors in all the roles, so you end up rooting for everybody in spite of yourself. And if that doesn’t get your mojo pumping, then the breathtaking footage of Newcastle and its rugged seacoast will. The film’s spectacular look is thanks to director Danny Cannon (an avid soccer player himself) and cinematographer Michael Barrett, who honed their skills on the beautifully shot TV series CSI.
In a harrowing night-time run, Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker, Once Upon a Wedding) and his family risk everything to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. Growing up in Los Angeles (in painfully realistic barrio scenes), Santiago dreams of playing professional soccer, but his world-weary father squelches his ambitions. Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane, King Arthur), a kindly English soccer scout, promises to arrange an introduction for Santiago to the Newcastle United team if the boy can get himself across the Atlantic. Since he’s illegal, Santiago can’t depart from L.A. Thanks to the savings of his beloved grandmother (Miriam Colon, TV’s Guiding Light), he gets back across the border to fly to England from his homeland.
In England, where “soccer is a religion,” Santiago discovers many new and sometimes strange things: Freezing sleet, muddy fields, a German coach (Czechoslovakian Marcel Iures), Irish girls (especially luscious Roz, played by Anna Friel, Timeline), fast-living friends (especially teammate Gavin Harris, played by Allesandro Nivola, Junebug), wild pub parties and the bitter reality of how one injury can torpedo a lifetime of dreams. Oddly (remember, this is a feel-good movie), most of the men holding the power over Santiago’s career are considerate, thoughtful gentlemen. That makes for warm fuzzies while you’re watching Santiago get the bejesus beat out of him on the field, but we all know the truth — soccer is just as ruthless as other high-stakes sports, and let’s not forget its ability to bring out the inner hooligan in fans worldwide. Parents can be assured that, unlike in the real life professional-soccer world, there’s no cursing in Goal!, and with a PG rating, Santiago and Roz do nothing more than kiss on the couch.
Goal! is the first film of a projected soccer trilogy that will star the same characters. The second film will be out later this year, with the third planned for 2007. Soccer fans might want to check out the film’s informative multi-language Web site at www.goalthemovie.com. Rated PG for language, sexual situations and some thematic material including partying.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller