out of Five
Running time: 86
Entertaining, genuinely inspirational documentary that tells a remarkable story and introduces us to some wonderful characters, but a baffling editing decision strips away its potential for maximum dramatic and emotional impact.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tim Albone and Lucy Martens, Out of the Ashes tells the remarkable true story of the Afghan cricket team, who rose from obscurity to become international competitors, thanks to sheer hard work and the dedication of inexperienced head coach Taj Malik Aleem. It's also worth noting that they trained with minimal facilities and had never faced a professional team before their World Cup qualifying matches.
Shot over a couple of years, the film follows the team as they travel to Jersey, Tanzania, Argentina and South Africa in 2008 and 2009 in order to play in the qualifying stages of the Cricket World Cup.
The characters are both likeable and compelling, particularly Taj, whose enthusiasm for the game and sheer joyous optimism are completely infectious; accordingly, there's a heartbreaking moment in the middle of the film that hurts the film quite badly. Other notable characters include the Minister for Cricket (complete with a personal bodyguard who appears in every shot), who criticises everything in Jersey, saying that Afghanistan is better; good-looking rookie player Gulbadin Ahmadzai, who has a heartbreaking story of his own; and senior player Ahmed "Haji" Shah, who struggles with culture shock when the team travel abroad.
The film is packed with delightful scenes: one notable highlight is the trip to Jersey, which is the first time the cricketers have been abroad. This provides some very funny culture clash scenes (such as the team wondering if there's any donkey on the Jersey hotel menu) as well as a thought-provoking and illuminating view of our own culture.
The film's biggest problem is that it foregrounds the team's success by opening with news clips and explanatory rags-to-riches commentary from an important international match - this robs it of some crucial tension at later points. Similarly, it actively shies away from showing the actual cricket, as if afraid that too much cricket would put people off ... a film about a cricket team.
Out of the Ashes is an engaging and likeable documentary that tells a remarkable story but the decision to foreground the team's success robs it of the dramatic and emotional punches you're expecting. Worth seeing though.