"The Damned United" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

3/04/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

"The Damned United"

Directed by Tom Hooper, Written by Peter Morgan, 93 minutes, Rated R.

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Michael Sheen appears to be the go-to man for portraying iconic Englishmen. He's played Tony Blair twice, first in the TV film "The Deal" and then in Stephen Frear's awards darling "The Queen." In 2008, he played Stephen Frost in Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon." Here, Sheen portrays Brian Clough, a man perhaps less infamous in the United States, but certainly notable in his homeland. His time as the manager of football team (that's English football) Leeds United has here been dramatized and sculpted to form a very universal story about ambition and how it can result in both tragedy and redemption.

The film was written by Peter Morgan, who also wrote the other three aforementioned films in which Sheen starred, and his script here is definitely top notch. The film basically explores Clough's rise and downfall from two parallel stories, one in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he took the nobody Derby team and made them champions, and another in 1974 that follows Clough as Leeds spirals into disaster due to his management and personal distaste for their former manager Don Revie (Colm Meaney).

It's a brilliant storytelling device, as we watch Clough both as the great coach that made him the nationwide celebrity and as the oft-hated and stubborn man that his success turned him into. These two sides of the man are perfectly conveyed by Sheen, who seems to have an almost inhuman talent for completely embodying famous figures, so much so that you forget you're even watching Sheen and he becomes the man he's playing. He's accompanied here by Timothy Spall, who plays Clough's longtime assistant manager Peter Taylor. Spall seems to get stuck with a lot of slimey villain-type roles (see "Harry Potter" and "Sweeney Todd"), but he's much different in this. He's got an extremely genuine and likable quality about him that you wouldn't expect based on some of his other roles.

The film also manages to balance its identity as a sports film and as a drama. Most of the actual football scenes are taken directly from archive footage, and the film never loses focus on its goal as a character drama. The direction is really fantastic, with some breathtakingly gorgeous visuals both on and off the field. The cinematography alone is used very well to depict Clough's ambition--early on the camera is low and Clough towers over everything, but as the film goes on we change focus and Clough is just as small as everyone else.

I think one of the most admirable aspects of the film is its forming a traditional tragedy but then allowing such a tragedy to result in redemption. So often tragic characters see their downfall and that's that, but here (as in real life, obviously) Clough's undying determination leads to disaster, but it allows him to come to terms with his personal struggles. I understand the factuality of the film is questionable according to people close to the events depicted, but I think only loosely conveying the events allows for a more interesting character. It allows Brian Clough to be more than a football manager. It lets him represent the struggles so many people have with ambition and the desire for recognition.

So thus far, Sheen's collaborations with Morgan, Hooper and Frear (who originally planned on directing the film himself) are completely golden. They're the trifecta of the "British Biopic." "The Damned United" is their finest effort so far.

Grade: A

Watch the movie trailer for "The Damned United" below.  What are your thoughts?

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