movie film review | chris tookey

Damned United

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  Damned United Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.38 /10
Michael Sheen , Timothy Spall , Jim Broadbent
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Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: Peter Morgan , based on the novel by David Peace

Released: 2009
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK
Length: 93

MIXED Reviews

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Many will wonder how Clough was able to propel clod-hopping Derby County from the bottom half of the Second Division to top of the First in so short a time before the Leeds fiasco. We are presented with a severe lack of evidence as to what made him one of the greats. The compensations lie in the playing of a cast headed by Sheen and Spall, who are terrific, and further adorned by Colm Meaney, a dead ringer for Revie, Jim Broadbent as Sam Longson, Derby’s long-suffering chairman, and Henry Goodman as Manny Cousins, the furious chairman of Leeds. The time will come when Sheen doesn’t have to impersonate a character like Blair, Frost or Clough with whom most of us are familiar. But until then he is good enough an actor to transcend mimicry. This may only be half of Clough, but that half is shown in its full glory... Despite these few misgivings, The Damned United is highly watchable, a comedic fiction that happens to be mostly fact. The depth it lacks might have been attained if Stephen Frears, the original director, had not left the project. But Hooper, who made a fine television mini-series about John Adams, has certainly not made a hash of it.
(Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard)
You're left wondering how a warm-hearted film like this could have attracted such ire and controversy... It all adds to a very watchable, entertaining film, but not one that tries to explore the complexities of a controversial character.
(Simon Austin, BBC Sport)
Much lighter - jauntier, indeed - in tone than the book, which was essentially a repetitive journey into paranoia, existential angst and despair, it concentrates on the relationships between Clough (Michael Sheen) and three key men in his life: his long-suffering assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), his choleric boss during his rather more successful stint at Derby County, Sam Longson (Jim Broadbent) - glimpsed during extensive flashbacks, an acceptable substitute for the book's metronomic back-and-forth structure - and, most traumatic of all, with his nemesis and bete noire, his Leeds predecessor, Don Revie (Colm Meaney.) The results are decidedly uneven, and frequently marred by some very sloppy anachronisms - most distracting of all, we see Leeds United's ground Elland Road as it looks today, a totally different structure from the near-seatless stadium of the early 70s - not to mention several casting-choices that will raise eyebrows among viewers familiar with the real-life individuals depicted (Spall's Taylor; Stephen Graham in what looks like a ginger frightwig as tough-tackling Leeds captain Billy Bremner). Sheen certainly has his moments as the flamboyantly idiosyncratic and self-assured Clough, but never quite manages to disappear into the role as he did with Tony Blair on The Queen, also scripted by Peter Morgan - and at times is distractingly reminiscent of his Kenneth Williams impersonation from TV's Fantabulosa!
(Neil Young, Neil Young’s Film Lounge)
Sheen is let down, however, by a disappointingly timid script. Admittedly, David Peace's novel is hard to adapt: it's a lunging, ranting, borderline-psychotic monologue; it judders between time frames; very little action takes place – it both describes and aspires towards stasis. The book, while it's not as savage as the author's other titles, is a clod of avant-garde extremism, a treatise on disgust, depression, defilement and demotion. Is it even about football? Or Clough? Seething with menace, invoking the spectre of terrace violence and police sirens, and near apocalyptic in tone ("These bloated skies. These bloated grey skies. These bloated grey Yorkshire ----ing skies"), it's a portrait of a Britain that doesn't fully realise that a new civil war has broken out. Morgan and Hooper, perhaps to make the film more palatable, present a Clough who is less boozy or clinical, much more likable. He's a good guy, stymied by the stuffed shirts and old-timers at Elland Road, a cocky man for sure, blessed but also one whose candour – at his first meeting with the Leeds players he tells them they've won all their trophies by cheating – was always going to get him into trouble... The Damned United zips along, is often funny and will give football fans of a certain age an enjoyable memory rush. Fundamentally, though, there's a mismatch between Peace – an anatomist of proletarian despair – and Morgan, the droll observer of the mandarin classes. I left the film feeling I knew Clough less rather than more, unconvinced by Hooper's presentation of a chirpy entertainer of the kind who might show up as a panellist on Blankety Blank.
(Sukhdev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph)
Director Tom Hooper, known for small-screen triumphs like Longford, must squeeze from scant resources a sense of both the epic – ie the football – and the period, which, with its tatty stadiums, was decidely non-epic. He’s better at the latter, although a witty script helps plug the gaps. At best, Hooper follows a match entirely from the perspective of the dressing room. At worst, he has to make archive footage work so hard it upstages his drama. He’s blessed with character turns: Sheen is cheeky and likeable, while Jim Broadbent’s Derby chairman is deliciously old-school. The biggest failure is the film’s portrayal of the Leeds team: the oddly-coiffured lads are never more than a unit and the calamity of Clough’s time in charge too much of a given.
(Dave Calhoun, Time Out)
Sheen's performance feels less like a public relations exercise than a demonstration of a gifted performer trusting his instincts and yet again managing that rare feat of turning a headline-maker into a real man... Another man-of-the-match performance from Sheen saves this from mid-table mediocrity.
(Richard Luck,
This film transported me right back to the Saturday-night television of my childhood. It majestically conjures that Match of the Day era of kipper ties, bouffant hair, sheepskin coats, Jimmy Hill's beard, orange footballs, and pitches that looked like the battlefields of Flanders. Yet it also brings to mind another 1970s favourite of Saturday nights on the Beeb: come on, don't say you've forgotten Mike Yarwood's impressions. In among his Jimmy Saviles, Harold Wilsons and Bob Monkhouses there would usually be a skit on Brian Clough, whose campy Northern drawl Yarwood caught brilliantly and, as I thought then, unimprovably. Michael Sheen's impersonation has changed my mind. This isn't quite a one-man show, but without Sheen's cocksure Clough at its centre it would be hard to see the point of The Damned United. Peter Morgan, the screenwriter, has a liking for stories that seem to mark turning-points – the Blair-Brown dinner of The Deal, the mumbled mea culpa of Frost/Nixon – yet on closer examination they look more like footnotes than insights. Morgan cannot see a molehill without wanting to transform it into a mountain. Has he done the same thing here? The 2006 David Peace novel on which it is based was essentially a "voice" book, an attempt to get inside the head of Brian Clough and ventriloquise his raging hatred of another manager and his football team. That he also came across as a foul-mouthed and possibly alcoholic sociopath is perhaps the reason why the Clough family have been so alienated by the project.
(Anthony Quinn, Independent)

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