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With: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Henry Goodman, Maurice Roeves, Jim Broadbent, Martin Compston
Written by: Peter Morgan, based on a novel by David Peace
Directed by: Tom Hooper
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 97
Date: 03/27/2009

The Damned United (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Best Football Forward

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

OK. Up front, I know nothing about English football (though I do know it's called "football" and not "soccer"), and I had never heard of Brian Clough, nor the events depicted in this film, which take place in the years up to and including the 1974 season. But none of that stopped me from enjoying this very vivid, affectionately prickly film.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Deal, The Queen and Frost/Nixon) teams up with actor Michael Sheen for the fourth time, in their fourth based-on-a-true story film. Sheen plays Clough, a superstar coach from the lower divisions, who takes charge of Leeds United. He does this mainly as a way to spite his older rival, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), who had previously coached the team to victory. Timothy Spall turns in a great supporting performance as Clough's right-hand man Peter Taylor, who wants no part of this petty revenge.

BBC director Tom Hooper does the script proud with his strikingly gritty widescreen compositions and clear, concise cutting. Even his occasional flourishes with deliberately striking angles pay off; they tend to corroborate the emotional content of the scene.

I'll leave it up to the real-life Clough fans to decide whether or not The Damned United is an accurate or a worthy portrayal, but it's a heck of a good film. Martin Compston co-stars as footballer John O'Hare, and Jim Broadbent is superb, as usual, as Sam Longson, owner of Clough's previous, winning team.

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