Friday, 1 January 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Damned United

Hello everyone, and welcome to a new year and a new decade, the times are indeed a-changin', but I tell you this much, whilst some things change, we get older, some die, some are born, one thing remains the same: the resident grumpy film critic is still on his high horse. Anyway, riff-raff aside, here is The Damned United, a film "depicting" English football manager Brian Clough's short time with Leeds United and the story that brought him to the club. Now, to get this off my chest, and to ensure that there will be no quibbles with regards to historical accuracy, the film is a depiction of Clough's time with Leeds, whilst not without inaccuracies. Look, for those of you who are sports fans and jumping on the film historical inaccuracies, a film is a film, and everything here is done for dramatic purposes. If you are telling a story, you don’t have to stick to your history books: it doesn't make a difference; the point is whether or not you make a damn good film. Peter Morgan, who scribed this film, is known for writing films such as The Last King of Scotland and Frost/Nixon, which whilst certainly not capturing historical accuracies brilliantly, certainly are films that are about real people in certain situations. His script once again shines, capturing the character and plight of Clough excellently in a script adapted from David Peace' novel, in a tremendous blend of fiction and fact. The alterations are done for the sake of dramatic purpose, and I applaud him for doing so. Structurally, without these alterations, the dramatic intent of the film would have been completely different and probably not have worked as well. So yes, you can question the accuracy, but take into account the film would not work any other way. Also, dialogue is solid, capturing a realism and conversational nature that makes the Brian Clough character seem so much larger than life as opposed to the supporting characters. Which brings us to the man himself. Brian Clough was himself a charismatic, intelligent and often controversial character in real life, and Michael Sheen portrays him excellently. Michael Sheen has proved himself to me before with his chameleonic abilities, having played Tony Blair and David Frost before, and excellently at that. Michael Sheen reminds in many respects of another great English actor, Gary Oldman: both play a wide and varied range of roles, and almost always consistently good (sorry Michael, I did not like New Moon). Nailing the Northern accent, Sheen slides into the skin of Clough in a role he clearly relishes being a lifelong football fan. Despite being a thin man, Sheen's Clough has a massive, magnetic presence that defies his size. He really is larger than life, and this is certainly one of the best lead performances of 2009. Also excellent is Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor, who in the supporting role and playing second fiddle to Sheen, shines also, as his other half and assistant manager. A strong actor giving a strong performance, whilst having played villainous roles, comes across as a warm fatherly figure in this film that we genuinely care about. This is the kind of role that would unfortunately go unnoticed in light of the behemoth performance by Sheen, but in the supporting category, Spall is equally commendable as Taylor. Also, Tom Hooper delivers strong direction, all things considered, seeing as how he was not the original director of choice of the film. Originally, Stephen Frears was to direct the film, but pulled out the last minute. Hooper takes advantage of the opportunity given to him and does a fine and commendable job. Also, director of photography, Ben Smithard, does a fine job of shooting the film. Mixing it up between digital video and high-definition, he makes the film very tidy, despite the often dark colours of England in the film. Nonetheless, the film is not without its criticisms. Now, as with the likes of The Queen, I have to wonder whether or not this would have been better as a television movie on the BBC, however, as it is, I am perfectly satisfied with the final product. However, it is no masterpiece. I would like to have seen more elaboration on the conflict between Clough and the Leeds United players. Yes, as said in the film, there was no relationship there, but I feel that in order to depict that properly, there needed to be more elaboration. That said, the relationship between Clough and Taylor is given a brilliant depiction by all involved. In a sense, the film is in many respects a love story between the two. Whilst there are criticisms for the film, there are not many, and I certainly think that this is a strong, very enjoyable film, with a strong script and two genuinely great performances from Sheen and Spall.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.1/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleased (better than Michael Sheen's last movie: see New Moon review for more details)

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