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The Damned United

By Joe MacLeod | Posted 11/4/2009

No, Yankee Doodle, it's not a movie about an airline. It's the late '60s/early '70s in drizzly old England, and if you don't fancy soccer, or sports, or at least really English movies, then run along so the rest of us Anglophiles can spread out and enjoy this amusing, emotional, and well-performed recounting of real-life football (as the entire rest of the world seems to insist on calling it) manager Brian Clough's (Frost/Nixon's Michael Sheen) disastrous six weeks as worst-ever at the helm of the top-drawer Leeds United football club, which at that moment in time was renowned and beloved for winning, and in new manager Clough's eye, "bloody cheating" to a man. Even more contemptible to Clough for this, and numerous taking-it-way-personal competition reasons, is United's previous manager, the arrogant, impersonal (and highly successful) Don Revie (the grimly convincing Colm Meaney, most recently from Law Abiding Citizen, but maybe more memorably from various Star Trek TV shows), who has moved onward and upward to run England's national football team, but whose cult of personality remains to cast a pall over hotshot Clough's attempts to remake the already successful team in his own image.

We watch through intermittent thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat flashes back and forward (an entertaining device to break up what could be a predictable arc) through soggy practice fields, grubby changing rooms, and dim, wood-paneled offices as the brash, cocksure Clough--contemporarily compared to Muhammad Ali in terms of shameless and sensational verbal, uh, "promotional" skills--raises his previous team, Derby County, with the help of his indispensable assistant manager Peter Taylor (the great, doughy, and, well, English Timothy Spall) up through a lower division to challenge the mighty Leeds United machine for the top of the division. Sheen is pitch-perfect (that's a footie reference, sorry) as the cheerily obnoxious and highly-driven Clough, whose life is absorbed and personal perspective warped by his all-consuming, outspoken rivalry with Revie (Damned doesn't go deeper for any other possible personal problems, cheers). Oscar-winning éminence grise Jim Broadbent (yeah, he was in some Harry Potter flicks) clocks a few ruddy scenes as a head-office type Clough is gifted at disrespecting, insulting, and generally pissing off while still getting the cash he needed to buy players, and Stephen Graham (from Snatch and Public Enemies) is a standout as one of the more thuggish Leeds lads. Again, tale well told, and really English.

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