Combustible Celluloid
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With: Steve Evets, Eric Cantona, Stephanie Bishop, Gerard Kearns, Stefan Gumbs, Lucy-Jo Hudson, Cole Williams, Dylan Williams, Matthew McNulty, Laura Ainsworth, Maxton Beesley, Kelly Bowland, Julie Brown, John Henshaw, Justin Moorhouse
Written by: Paul Laverty
Directed by: Ken Loach
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 116
Date: 05/18/2009

Looking for Eric (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Goal Truth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ken Loach is one of the world's most acclaimed directors, and yet he sometimes applies his style -- a gritty, English working class realism -- to some of the most routine old plots and ideas. Sometimes this does not mesh well, as when the material is far too determined and upright, as in Carla's Song or Bread and Roses. But when Loach merely takes on a tried-and-true old genre, his style can sometimes breathe new life into it, as with Sweet Sixteen and the new Looking for Eric. None of these movies are among his very best work, but they are a pleasant and skillful diversion until one of those better ones comes along.

Steve Evets stars as Eric Bishop, a burned out mail carrier in Manchester. He's skinny and ragged looking with an unkempt mop of curly, graying hair, and lives with two ungrateful teenage stepsons. He's reached a low point, mourning the loss of his one true love and his glorious, forgotten past as a competitive dancer. When some of his work colleagues begin a semi-serious "men's group," he chooses football (soccer) legend Eric Cantona as his inspiration, a hero he'd like to emulate. Oddly enough the real Cantona (playing himself) actually does turn up as Eric's imaginary guide (not unlike Woody Allen with a fictional Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again Sam).

Eric's current trials include a new grandchild, which results in occasional meetings with his ex-wife Lily (Stephanie Bishop). He still loves her and tries his awkward best to try and make things up to her, but his real trial comes with one of his sons agrees to hide a gun for a local thug under the floorboards in their house. This leads to a big, old-fashioned showdown of the type that Hollywood movies usually employ, and which is designed to get audiences cheering. Fortunately, in Loach's hands, it still has a measure of dignity and it works beautifully.

There are times, however, when Loach's style tends to clash with the material, as when the story begins to escalate. His touch is more suited to minutiae and small moments than big developments, and when the gun plot first begins to kick in, it seems glaringly out of place among the day-to-day worries of Eric's life. Thankfully Loach and his regular screenwriter Paul Laverty manage to right the balance further along. The gun situation actually manages to mirror just how far Eric himself has become lost and unbalanced in his own life. He has lost control of everything, and the gun becomes the symbol of how to start getting it back (almost as if it were pointed right at his head).

The Cantona scenes are likewise beautifully handled, with no fanfare or visual effects or explanation as to how Cantona arrived. Instead, the two men simply begin to share a nice kind of mentor-student relationship (a la The Karate Kid). Cantona's advice is just elusive enough to give Eric a challenge, and when they're not discussing Eric's troubles, the latter is grilling the former football star about some of his greatest moments (which Loach illustrates with great archive footage). Overall, Cantona gives a terrific, low-key performance in this role, and never steals any thunder from the movie's actual hero.

One critic labeled this as "coming-of-middle-age" story, and that's probably the movie's biggest asset. We begin to root for this poor schlub to pull himself together, and his ultimate and most touching lesson comes, simply enough, when he learns to ask his friends for help. (Cantona reveals, in a sublime scene, that his greatest moment on the field was not a goal, but a pass.) That anyone, at any age, can grow up and that even the most pathetic of us have people to turn to for help makes this little movie into a genuine treasure.

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