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This film records the most unlikely upset in World Cup history, the 1-0
United States defeat of England in the Brazilian mining city of Belo
Horizonte ("Beautiful Horizon"), 300 miles north of Rio di Janeiro, on
June 29, 1950. The United States was a team of part time amateurs who
were drawn against the mighty English squad, playing in its first World
Cup and determined to show the world their mastery of the game they had
invented. Football fans who saw the score reported assumed the score
line was a typographical error, as it was unthinkable that the US could
even stay with, much less defeat, an English side which featured some
of the games all time great players, including Billy Wright, Sir
Stanley Matthews (who sat out the match), Stan Mortenson and Wilf
Mannion. London bookmakers offered odds of 500-1 against such an
preposterous event. The New York Times refused to run the score when it
was first reported, deeming it a hoax.
The US team was a collection of first generation American soccer players drawn mainly from club teams on the east coast and included five St. Louisans, four of whom grew up in the "Hill" neighborhood of South St. Louis: goalie Frank Borghi, fullback Frank Colombo, forward Gino Pariani, and midfielder Frank "Pee Wee" Wallace, and also the long time St. Louis University soccer coach, halfback Harry Keough. The US had only one full time professional player on its roster, Hugh McIllvenny from Scotland. They had played together only two weeks when they departed for Brazil. They'd lost to Italy in a World Cup warm up by the score of 9-0, and had been defeated by Spain in the World Cup opener 3-1.
It was reported that the American players were so confident that victory was unlikely that several of them were out late the night before the game enjoying themselves and sported hangovers at the opening kickoff. Borghi was quoted afterwards as saying he was hoping to hold the English to five or six goals. The English team poured forward, firing shot after shot at goalie Borghi, but could not score. Six minutes before half time, U.S. center forward Joe Gaetgens, a Haitian born dishwasher living in New York, redirected with a lunging header a shot by half back Walter Bahr, who is himself, incidentally, the long time Penn State soccer coach and the father of NFL placekickers and former Penn State soccer players Chris and Matt Bahr. The misdirected shot beat England keeper Bert Williams, and the single goal stood up through a second half where the Americans withstood constant English pressure and numerous near misses, including three shots off the woodwork.
The Brazilian crowd thoroughly enjoyed the failures of the pretournament favorites and carried the US team off the field after the final whistle. The game was noteworthy for the complete lack of interest in the result by the American press and public. The only American reporter at the game, Dent McSkimming of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, used his vacation time and paid his own way to Brazil to cover the game.
Author Geoffrey Douglas' book advances the premise that the victory was not a fluke when one considers the character and promise of the winning American players, as evidenced by the upstanding and honorable men they came to be.
Trivia: the English national soccer team has never again worn blue shirts they wore against the US in that game.
The film was shot on location in St. Louis and Brazil, and features former US National Soccer Team Captain John Harkes as a consultant and soccer playing extra.
"The Game Of Their Lives" lives up to expectations as a exciting
underdog sports movie. I loved it. Saw it in a theater with only 3
other people - at noon, on a Monday, raining - but it didn't matter
because I was engaged and wrapped up in the 1950's story of a bunch of
ordinary guys who did something extraordinary.
Based on a real event with real, still living, people it is about heros of WWII who came home and went about their lives until asked to form a team for the World Cup soccer matches. They have only weeks and decide to get some players from the east coast and some from one area of St. Louis, MO. from the Italian enclave known as The Hill.
Frank Borghi (Gerard Butler) is the goalie and a leader of the group. The challenge is to get the whole group to pull together and mesh the different styles to make a team that may make a good showing. They don't expect to win as most of the teams they will play are more or less professionals and/or have played together for years.
The soccer playing is exciting even for this old gal who knows little about the game. The cinematography is very good and keeps the pace of the game and shots of the crowds and sports announcers ticking along and by the end when time runs out on the English players, and the Americans have won this great upset, I was ready to cheer too.
I disagree with most of the reviews I have read. This is a good sports movie and the performances and pacing are as good as "Rudy" or any other underdog film.
One thing I loved was the look of the people and homes and cars. It was the 1950's again and the music I danced to was just right. One for my movie collection. 9/10
If you enjoy soccer, you'll really like this movie about USA underdogs
playing the Brits, the best in the world in 1950. The audience I was
with consisted of adults and kids in soccer uniforms. The movie drew
cheers and applause especially during the final confrontation. Gerard
Butler as the great goalkeeper Frank Borghi really gives this movie
heart and soul. The actors were chosen for their ability to actually
play soccer so the game sequences are very realistic. Butler especially
throws his body into a bone-crunching depiction of a goalkeeper with
the heart of a lion.
You don't have to be know much about soccer to enjoy this movie. I highly recommend it to everyone who likes an exciting movie and wonderful acting. Three cheers!
First and foremost, I'm hardly a soccer expert and barely a soccer fan
so this commentary comes strictly from a movie fan and a fan who enjoys
critiquing films. That said, I found The Game of Their Lives to be a
solid film. It's a product of the same mind that brought us "Rudy" and
"Hoosiers" and one can expect similar results. It tells the tale of the
1950 US World Cup team that shockingly beat England (though did not win
the World Cup itself) It begins in St Louis, providing backgrounds and
insight into the lives and families of the St Louisians who later will
be on the World Cup Team.
Strong performances from Wes Bentley and Gerard Butler lead this film to the final victory. Bentley and Butler portray the leaders of the team (Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi, respectively) with likability and believability. The supporting cast that rounds out the team also turn out performances that will keep you involved with wanting to route for this team. Don't expect an electric atmosphere, however, as this story is told from a reporter reminiscing.
The Game of Their Lives offers character development for the team members without ever straying from the subject at hand. Through their actions on and off the field, the audience can get a taste for who these men were. Much homage and respect is also deservingly paid to England for their magnificent history in the sport. This is not one of those ports films that serves to make the United States seem over glorious and under mind the greatness of England, as many assume it will. I for one walked away from this film with a greater respect for England and what they've done, and continue to do, for the sport
I very much enjoyed this movie. The return in time to 1950 was well done & very realistic. The movie did a nice job of recreating one of the most forgotten episodes in USA sports history. There is one thing I would have liked to have seen and that would have been an 'epilogue' at the end of the film stating what these players did with the rest of their lives. This is what was done at the end of movies such as 'Chariots of Fire' and 'American Graffiti'. I do know that Walter Bahr ended up as the soccer coach at Penn State. I know that Harry Keough was the soccer coach at St. Louis U. when they won five NCAA titles. It would have been nice to see these kind of summaries about all of the featured players.
This is a super story with lots of human interest and great soccer
footage. Teaches you some sports history that most of the world is
unfamiliar with -- especially since most Americans don't think the U.S.
HAS a soccer history.
The acting is pretty darn good. They strayed a bit from some of this historical truth -- the Haitian guy was NOT into voodoo. But I guess that's par for the course in any movie. Would have like to know what happened to everyone following the game that is highlighted in the movie, as well as which team won the 1950 World Cup. But it made me go out and do some research -- always a good thing.
Definitely worth watching.
O.K., how many of you know that the U.S. beat a heavily-favored English
team in a 1950 World Cup Soccer upset? No? No-one? Researching the
annals of Sports headlines would not necessarily provide you with the
correct information, as the win was so astonishing that the final score
of 0-1 was assumed by British journalists to be a typo, and was
reported as an English victory of 10-1! And the American Press was too
busy covering the onset of the Korean War to pay much attention to the
unexpected triumph by a hastily thrown-together U.S. team in a sport
which had not yet caught on in the States.
The Game of Their Lives exists to correct this glaring omission in Sports History. David Anspaugh (Hoosiers, Rudy) has directed the quintessential Soccer movie, compelling in its simplicity. Forced by an extremely limited budget to pare this true story down to its bare bones, what emerges is a straight-forward accounting of the American Spirit. On my way to the St. Louis premiere, an African taxi driver put it succinctly, yet enthusiastically, commenting, "Yes! Yes! That's what you Americans do! You make up your minds, pull things together and get things done!" The minimalist story is told in flashback.
Patrick Stewart (Yes, Star Trek) lends his authoritative voice to narration, in the role of Dent McSkimming, the only American reporter to cover the game in Brazil, traveling at his own expense. The setting is primarily "the Hill," a working class Italian-American neighborhood of St. Louis, MO. Against a visually accurate if somewhat nostalgic depiction of post-WW2 optimism and Family Values, the team players selected just weeks before the first round World Cup matches are introduced. It is immediately clear from their devotion to the game that Soccer is a thinly-veiled metaphor for Life for these amateurs. Against this backdrop of a simpler time, a result-oriented male psyche is exposed.
Gerard Butler gives a stand-out performance as Frank Borghi, the steadfast Goalie who is the heart of the team. Mr. Butler has demonstrated incredible range in recent films, going from action hero (Tomb Raider II) to big budget musical (Phantom of the Opera), to independent foreign film (Dear Frankie), to this near-documentary Sports ensemble piece. Just as Borghi is the glue which cements the U.S. team, Butler holds the cast together with an unrelenting presence. His measured determination is balanced against the frustrated pessimism of the titular Team Captain, the less-than-charismatic yet eminently practical Walter Bahr - who went on to coach at Penn State, played by Wes Bentley (American Beauty). Also turning in notable performances are the Mandylor brothers, Costas and Louis, together in a movie for the first time, portraying unrelated players. The personal stories rivet the audience to the chain of events which culminate in the eponymous game.
The match in question was played and shot on location in Brazil. Despite foreknowledge of the outcome, game play is heart-stoppingly exciting and the camera angles place you in the thick of the competition. There is some real Soccer being played on screen! Although I am not an avid Sports fan, I was surprised to find myself on the edge of my seat and carried away by the immediacy of the action. At the premiere in St. Louis, it was heart-warming to see several of the original players in person, including Frank Borghi, being finally honored after 55 years for their remarkable achievement.
My soccer team and our coach (all St. Louis Public High people) decided
to go see Game of Their Lives today, opening day. We went to the Chase,
one of the three theaters in the area where the movie was playing. We
were hyped no matter what - It was the weekend and we were a bunch of
teenage girls going to go see a movie. None of us actually expected a
great movie though. We were happily surprised though.
The movie started off introducing the tale - the who, what, where, when, and whys of it all. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist, Dent McSkimming, retells this information and relays us back to 1950. We are introduced to the St. Louis members of the team in a rather amusing manner, in which the team gathers from such venues as a funeral... They gather down at the Hill (where a good deal of the film was filmed), and play a game. For soccer fans, these scenes are really fun to watch, and wonder how the scenes must have been choreographed. It really is amazing.
In addition to the St. Louis members, there are East Coasters who join the team. The team ends up being rather segregated between the two groups. The teams are brought together by the leaders from each side, Walter Bahr (the amazing Wes Bentley) and Frank Borghi (the equally amazing Gerard Butler). The two have a great on screen chemistry, especially when they go to recruit Joe Gatjaens (played by Jimmy Jean-Louis).
The whole cast is amazing, but none more so than the three fore-mentioned actors who really truly seemed to become the soccer player they were portraying. It was a lot of fun to cheer with the rest of the theater every time Frank (Mr. Butler) stops the ball, or when Joe (Mr. Jean- Lewis) scores the game winning goal against the Brits. Jay Rodan is also particularly amusing as "Pee-Wee" Wallace. It's hard not to like the characters you're supposed to like (and equally as hard not to dislike the ones you're supposed to dislike, such as Gavin Rossdale as Stanley Mortensen).
It was also fun to sit in a theater filled with people who were actually in the movie. The Chase was packed with extras who were eager to cheer out every time they were on screen. The man sitting next to our coach plays the barber in the very beginning of the film and told us to cheer for him when he came on. So of course we did. Then, as soon as his part was over, he stood up and said 'All right, that's it for me' and left. It was absolutely hilarious. The man in front of us had pictures of him and Gerard Butler at the Premier, which was held in St. Louis. This film has been something that has united St. Louisans, and anyone from the city should go see it. It is an amazing deal of fun to see the little car place across from Adrianna's (home of the best sandwich in the city) and the field up at Soldan High, or the Bocce field on the Hill. It shows the real St. Louis.
All in all, this was an amazing movie that everyone should see, especially those from St. Louis and those who have ever played or watched soccer. It's a great story no matter what. And the film isn't too long either... So if you don't like it - well, you don't have to sit through it for too long (now that's what I call logic).
9/10 stars (I just can't call it perfect... Awfully close though.)
Saw this movie while on a flight several months ago (AmericaWest - now
USAirways). Could not understand how I missed it at the theaters, but
from reading the posts, I now know -- very limited distribution.
As my daughter is a serious club soccer 'keeper (they are #1 in AZ, 7th in the USA) I wanted to buy the DVD to show to her club team mates AND some of the other players in her Olympic Development Program. It's been driving me nuts trying to find this film! Seems like I am the only one in this state to have seen the film! I found it to be light on the actual soccer but full of sacrifice and inspiration and a true demonstration of how the human spirit can triumph over seemingly impossible odds.
A lighter, soccer version of "Remember the Titans" -- but not as "gritty". If you can find it -- go see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES was a very good movie. It was a very good movie
that I think could've been a great movie.
There really isn't any need for spoilers because it is a sports movie--and sports movies have happy, victorious endings about 99% of the time. But this story isn't really about the ending--which any viewer could predict--it is more about a team coming together at the last minute and working to form cohesion and camaraderie while facing unbeatable odds.
When the US World Cup team was formed, it was mainly comprised of 2 groups, the players from St. Louis' "Hill" and the "East Coasters." A lot of these men had played soccer well, but not professionally. They were men with other jobs like a mailman, undertakers, and a dish washer. The 2 groups had different styles to overcome and each had its own leader: Frank Borghi (Gerard Butler) led the men from the Hill and Walter Bahr (Wes Bentley) led the East Coasters. I really enjoyed these two characters. The film did an excellent job of showing their effort to create a sense of team spirit in a very limited amount of time.
There are plenty of colorful characters in the film, which strengthened the point of how they were all plucked from their lives for a mere 3 weeks to head down to Brazil and play their hearts out. There was Pee Wallace (who is afraid to fly) and Gino Pariani--who are known as a lethal combo on the field )or "pitch." There's Charlie Colombo and Joe Gatjaens--Charlie who wears gloves for every game and Joe--a Haitian--who turns cartwheels and shows infectious optimism. There's Harry Keough, the young mailman learning Spanish at home so he can converse with his girlfriend.
Many of these men were veterans. Many of them had been awarded during the service and several had had psychological after effects from WWII. Perhaps it was because of having served their country in that capacity that they felt the patriotism necessary to give their game that extra "umph." The film gives you just enough of their personal lives to get to know them and spends the majority of its time on the team after it has been formed but before the legendary game. The ending is somewhat abrupt--I felt--in that the second the game is over, so is the movie. You get the obligatory reintroduction of the characters by showing the actual men (now aged and few) who were on the team, but I wish there had been something--even a paragraph that appeared on the screen--that gave the audience some closure with these players with which we had invested the last 90 minutes.
Overall, however, it was very enjoyable and interesting.
(P.S. To those die-hard Gerry Butler fans--you'll enjoy the scenery a lot.)
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