out of Five
Running time: 115
Smartly directed, entertaining football drama that wears its clichés with pride.
Goal! is the first part of a planned trilogy of football movies, unashamedly aimed at promoting the sport in the States. It was partly funded by FIFA and the film-makers secured unprecedented access to both the training grounds and the players themselves, giving the movie an impressive level of authenticity. The plot may be constructed entirely from clichés, but they’re good ones and they work, thanks to strong characters and a decent script by veteran screenwriting duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.
Kuno Becker stars as Santiago Muñez, a young Mexican immigrant who lives with his family in Los Angeles, working two jobs and playing football in the park whenever he can. However, everything changes when he’s spotted by has-been talent scout Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane) and offered the chance to try out for Newcastle United, provided he can get himself to England.
Naturally, Santiago decides to follow his dreams, against the wishes of his moody father, with whom he has issues. Once in rainy Newcastle, Santiago is given a month to prove himself worthy of playing alongside the likes of Alan Shearer and cocky new star Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola).
The clichés come thick and fast, as Santiago tries to adapt to the rough-and-tumble of the English game (never having played in rain or mud before), falls for the team nurse (Anna Friel) and tries to avoid the debauched lifestyles of his teammates.
Becker’s more of a footballer than an actor and he struggles in some of his big emotional scenes (“Remember when we played Ful-HAM?”), but he has a likeable screen presence that carries the film.
The supporting cast are superb, particularly Marcel Iures (as Newcastle’s manager), Stephen Dillane and Anna Friel, despite her wobbly Geordie accent. However, the best performance belongs to Alessandro Nivola, as the egotistical Harris, who surprises us with an unsuspected depth of loyalty and friendship and gets all the best lines. There are also plenty of cameos by famous footballers, some of whom (Beckham, Shearer) even get to speak.
Where Goal! really scores, however, is in the impressive football sequences, with shots from Premiership games cleverly spliced together with footage of the actors filmed in close-up. Director Danny Cannon gives these scenes a real level of authenticity and the matches themselves are adrenaline-fuelled and exciting, even if we can tell how it’s all going to end.
In short, the film-makers deserve credit for attempting to bring a serious football film to the screen and it will be interesting to see where they go with the next two instalments – will they go for the hat-trick and make the same clichés work three times in a row? At any rate, Part Two is already being filmed and sees Santiago at Real Madrid, while the third part is set during the 2006 World Cup. For now, though, Goal! is an enjoyable drama that should appeal to football fans and non-football fans alike. Worth seeing.