The Damned United -- The Perils of Ego and Ambition


                                 Sport films are not often preferred by viewers, simply because of the logical rules and regulations, which might turn into a incomprehensible jargon in the mind of uncomprehending. But, the sport movies stow away the intricacies of that particular sport and rather concentrates on the human story beneath. Tom Hooper's "The Damned United" (2009) takes the path of a best sports movie, which is set in the world of 1970s British football. To be precise, it's about Brian Clough -- a famous football manager -- who lifted a middling Derby County team from the Second Division to champion of the First.   

                                  "The Damned United" isn't the usual Hollywood under-dog story. It's narrative arc concentrates in the mid-1970s, when Brian Clough took over the most successful team (Leeds United) and drove it straight into the ground, winning just one match. He lasted as a manager for only 44 days but went on to find success with another club. The English Football world was surprised in 1974, when Clough (Michael Sheen) accepted the offer to take over as manager of Leeds. Leeds was at the top of the tables but Clough accused the team for cheating and has chided them over and over again in the preceding months (“They’ve been champions, but they haven’t been good champions’’). He also despised Leeds' departing manager, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). 



                                 After taking over Leeds United, Clough became a warped icon incurring the egomania of the British Football. With his outrageous insults and personal vendettas, he alienated players, management and the fans. Clough has previously made the scrappy Derby County club into a successful team with his genius talent spotter Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). Clough's ego made him assume that the rise of Derby was entirely his own doing. Interestingly, in Clough's 44 days tenure with Leeds, Taylor declined to follow him. 

                                 Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech", "Les Miserables") brings in a unique style of his own, by his striking penchant for off-kilter camera setups. He has perfectly brought us the 70s Britain, full of terraced housing and ailing factories. He has also chosen to keep the actual ball-kicking to a minimum level. The sensibility makes up for a accessible drama, which emphasizes themes of friendship, honor, rivalry and loyalty. Peter Morgan has adapted the David Peace's source novel for the screen. The book is said to run less on a story and more on a stream of interior monologues. So, Morgan has done a great job in bringing the massive personality within the 70's grounds and embodying all the richness and ego of the character. 


                                   As Clough, Michael Sheen uses his talent for mimicry. He essayed Tony Blair in "The Queen" and David Frost in "Frost/Nixon" but "Damned United" is one of his rare central performances, where he shows a viewer, what he can do without a co-star stealing the show. He deciphers the British psyche, when he plays as the Leeds manager. However, in the flashbacks, he mixes cockiness, humor, warmth and insecurity. Timothy Spall matches Sheen in skill. He is terrific as Taylor -- a principled man subjected to stand in Clough’s shadow until bad-temper tears them apart.  

                                   The bitter sports scenes in downpours of rain; Clough, pacing his office, in a nerve-wrecking manner, during a big game and only relying on the roar of the crowd outside to gauge whether his team or winning or not; The long nights and self-doubt keeping Clough away from sleep. These soulful scenes might resonate with any sports fan or sports men and makes it rise up from its bitterly setting. 



                                   "The Damned United" finishes at halfway point of Clough's managerial career. In the late 1970s, he joined with an obscure Nottingham Forest squad (reuniting with Taylor). He took the team all the way to win back-to-back European Cup trophies, a feat considered as one of the greatest in the history of the sport. This is neither a soccer movie nor a biopic of Brian Clough. It's simply a parable about a man's struggle with his own dangerous ego.

Trailer


The Damned United -- IMDb