The Damned United Review
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Recently, theaters have been barraged with biopics, exploring the lives of everyone from John Keats to Amelia Earhart. Unfortunately, the majority of them have been surprisingly distant and dull—often turning fascinating figures into forgettable characters. But leave it to Michael Sheen to bring energy and charisma to a biopic about someone you’ve probably never even heard of.

In director Tom Hooper’s The Damned United, Sheen stars as famed English football manager Brian Clough. In 1974, at the height of Leeds United’s success, Clough was hired to replace the team’s beloved manager, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), who had left to manage England’s national team. But what seemed to be Clough’s dream job soon turned into a nightmare.

Jumping back and forth through Clough’s early career (which, admittedly, gets a bit confusing at times), United explores Clough’s rocky relationship with Revie’s team, his motivation in taking the Leeds job, the bridges he burned in the process, and his rocky 44 days as manager.

Now, I can’t tell you whether The Damned United is historically accurate. From what I’ve read, though, the book on which it was based was written with its fair share of artistic license (enough for Leeds player Johnny Giles to sue the publisher—and win). So I think it’s probably safe to assume that the script takes some liberties, too. I can, however, tell you that it’s one entertaining film—about one entertaining character.

Whether or not Sheen’s Clough is real (or accurately portrayed) doesn’t matter all that much to me—or at least it doesn’t make much of a difference. Because, like most other North Americans, I’d never heard of him before I sat down to watch the movie. What really matters, then, is that he’s so much fun to watch.

In the late ‘60s, Clough’s fast-talking bravado often led people to compare him to Mohammed Ali—and for good reason. Though Clough wouldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds with Ali in the ring, the two could easily go head-to-head in a battle of egos. And, also like Ali, Sheen’s Clough is simply irresistible. It doesn’t matter what you think of his attitude; love him or hate him, you’ll still enjoy watching him. He’s got a larger-than-life personality (and an ego to match), and he talks all the time. And, as with David Frost—and even Tony Blair—Sheen gives him such a magnetic personality that you won’t be able to look away, no matter how much you’d like to.

So even if you’ve never watched a single game of football (the European kind, that is), you’ll still enjoy The Damned United. The cast is phenomenal, and the characters are engaging. And, like another recent soccer movie, Rudo y Cursi, United isn’t really about the game. Instead, it’s about the egos and the competition—and you don’t have to understand the offside rule to enjoy a little bit of not-so-friendly competition.

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