Last week, we posted an argument for a new version of Victory along with our choices for who should play the team in such a reboot. Unfortunately, I had never actually seen the movie. That’s since been rectified. Consider what follows me watching it, so you don’t have to.
Opening scene: Wow, I really can’t tell what’s going on. Can I adjust my screen any brighter? That’s how you begin a soccer movie? With a machine-gunning?
Several scenes in: What the hell is going on? There’s a British chain of command within a POW camp? Who’s in charge here? The whole escape thing has a Catch-22ish quality about it (I mean the novel, not the concept). Escaping, while in essence an absurdly dangerous pursuit (as is evidenced by the opening sequence) is pursued with the levity and flippancy of going out to the store to buy a gallon of milk.
Some more scenes later: Parts of this are definitely funny. Stallone as Hatch trying so hard to get on the team and failing; looking absolutely miserable at soccer; John Colby just lambasting him repeatedly. That’s all fun. Then, two seconds later, Colby will ask for the Eastern European players and you are reminded forcibly of the Holocaust. The tragico-comic nature of Catch-22 rises again.
Several scenes later: So there are two narratives going on now? There’s Hatch’s attempted escape and the soccer game? How do the two combine? Oh, here we go. Hatch is now going to escape just to inform the French resistance of the game and try and get the whole team out. But the British chain of command will still languish in the POW camp? What am I missing here? It’s as if an entire movie was written; then the plot was changed entirely; and then the poor screenplay editor had to figure out a way to Frankenstein them together.
Some scenes after that: John Colby is ridiculously easy to convince. All Hatch had to do was tell Colby that he was messing with his (Hatch’s) planned escape, and boom! Several definitive “screw you”s are turned into a “Sure, you can be our trainer.” Then, when the team are about to escape during halftime, Colby is all for it. The players are, all of a sudden, once they are down the hole, like “Hey, gaffer! We can win!” And Colby’s like “We can win? Maybe we shouldn’t escape!” And Hatch is like, “What the f$%^ are you talking about? We have been working for this forever!” And Colby is like “Come on man, this is bigger than escape!” “And Hatch is like “What are you talking about! This our lives! We’ll be killed if we win!” But just like that he agrees to it. And the French Resistance, despite risking their lives and working laboriously to enable the escape, just lies down and accepts it. [Cue suspending of disbelief].
After a few scenes: Pele is really good at soccer. Yes, I’ve seen the highlights. Yes, it’s a movie. But even when it’s fictional, watching that dude dribble around people; watching him juggle while delivering lines; watching him do that bicycle kick in a million different angles. It’s clear why the dude is a legend. That just begs the question: why isn’t Pele’s goal the critical moment of the film? It’s a faux moment; Sly Stallone’s great penalty save is the actual defining moment of the game. Apparently the penalty save was included just to satisfy Stallone’s ego (he wanted to score the final goal as a keeper). That’s absolutely ridiculous. If the original planned escape isn’t bigger than beating the Germans, then there’s no way Sly is bigger than the movie: except when he is. Poor John Huston and Yabo Yablonsky. Talk about strengthening Americans’ opinion of soccer as a boring sport: the game ends on a penalty save to end the game 4-4!!! What?! That alone must have set soccer in America back by a decade.
Some scenes later: The Wes Pickard Oscar of the moment goes to the crowd chanting “Victoire” at the end of the movie. That, of all things, had me tearing up. Nothing the players did, or Michael Caine did, or Pele did moved me as much as the crowd chanting. Honorable mention goes to the Adrian-looking figure who plays Stallone’s love interest. Love interest is a strong word. More like, inevitable female figure who must be in the movie because it wouldn’t be a Western film if the main male figure didn’t have some female figure to orient himself around.
A few scenes before the end of the movie: OK, so is this how this works? The entire movie revolves around setting up this intricate escape from the Stadium Colombe just to have the team opt out at the last minute, ruining everything, just to have the crowd conveniently break down all the walls and smuggle the team out, placing identical sport coats and hats on all of them while the German soldiers stand helplessly by? The look on the faces of the British officers when the team goes back on the pitch is one that mixes extreme displeasure with helplessness. But why do they care so much? What stake do they personally have in it?
Thoughts after the movie is over: OK. In terms of actual enjoyment: the “period” clothes were amazing (amazingly asynchronous); watching Pele and Ardiles was a lot of fun; the footballing action wasn’t terrible. I think what irked me the most was the way the movie was awkwardly split between the escaping motif and Hatch’s planned escape; and the noble mission of the team to score a moral victory over the Germans during an important point of the war. It was part-period drama (the overtones of the horribleness of the Holocaust mixed with the “absurdity of war” theme) part-sports movie. A movie with a split identity. I was constantly in a revolving door between getting caught up in the lovely Moore/Pele/Ardiles action and the remaining sober-over-the-horrors-of-war-type action. Either way, I enjoyed it.
1. All dialogue is approximate.