Starring: Kuno Becker and Alessandro Nivola
Director: Danny Cannon
GOAL! is a celebration of English football which most audiences will enjoy.
The media often paints an ugly picture of bad sportsmanship on the pitch, the prima donna tantrums of exorbitantly highly paid players, the hooligan behaviour of supporters.
In recent times, films like The Football Factory and Green Street portray alarming violence of “the firms” and their brutal clashes.
Goal! takes a very positive tone yet it does not shirk the negative issues.
There are not many football films.
In the 80s there was an entertaining World War II escape story with Sylvester Stallone, called Escape to Victory, where the prisoners played football (and Pele starred as one of them).
There was The Miracle of Bern two years ago where film-makers re-created the glory days of German football (soccer to those outside the world of football).
Now, we have the English celebration.
It is a likeable film, one of those emotional rags to riches and championship sagas that may be fairytales but do come true so often with those who are very talented in sports.
Goal! has been written to appeal to the widest range of football enthusiasts. The hope is that it will draw the American football fans (not the fans of American football, a very different sport).
With a Latino hero, it is clearly going to be a winner among Hispanic audiences.
Most of the time, dreamers go off to America to fulfil their hopes.
This time someone from Los Angeles leaves it for his dream, going to England and, more specifically, to the wet and wild city of Newcastle and its football club.
Goal! opens with illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border. Then it shows a poor family making a life in LA by working in mansion gardens.
The father knows that this is the world his family is confined to, no wealth, no opportunities except to buy a truck and set up an independent business. And that’s it.
His older son, Santiago (Kuno Becker), has a great talent for football.
When an English former scout (Stephen Dillane) notices him, he backs him and persuades him to come to Newcastle to try out.
The screenplay does not give Santiago a dream run. His first play is in pouring rain and sloshing mud that he has never experienced in LA.
Some of the reserves are bullies with nasty insults to Santiago.
The coach (a persuasive continental European performance by Romanian Marcus Iures) seems aloof.
However, Santiago is presented as a decent and principled young man, well brought up by his grandmother and pleasingly polite, even when his team-mate takes him to boozy, sexy clubs. He is tempted to give up but doesn’t – and people appreciate him and support him.
For those who love the game, they will feel right at home, even if they are not Newcastle supporters.
There are quite a lot of match play sequences. The film uses the actual city and stadium locations as well as the turbulent seafront very effectively.
We are drawn into identifying with Santiago. We really want him to succeed, to win over the coach, for his father to acknowledge that his choices are the right ones.
Kuno Becker is a very personable young man (and a popular star in Mexico) and has no trouble getting us on his side.
Anna Friel has a nice role as the team’s nurse and his girlfriend.
Alessandro Nivola gives a flamboyant performance as the equivalent of an ageing Wayne Rooney who, in this world of dreams and hopes, can actually come to his senses and do the right thing. If only…
This is a serious contender for movie surprise of the year!