The power of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and an object lesson in what it really means to be a winner in life.The power of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and an object lesson in what it really means to be a winner in life.The power of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and an object lesson in what it really means to be a winner in life.
The film shows interviews with the players and their families, coaching sessions and of course football matches, but much of the joy comes from watching the players bond, and as Rongen is introduced to the rich, loving culture of American Samoa, so are we. It feels like the 'bonding sessions' - players swimming, hiking and going to church together - is a way of life for American Samoans, and there are some lovely moments of sheer unadulterated friendship. Jaiyah Saelua is one of the more interesting players, a Fa'afafine, (the third sex of Samoa, born male but with both male and female traits, an important part of Samoan culture, dedicated to family). Her gender is accepted by the players, and in a sport rife with prejudice - homophobia and racism are big issues in modern football - it's lovely to see the players sing, dance and eat with their sister at night, after training hard with her in the day. Besides, she's an extremely likable screen presence. The American Samoan culture is the most escapist element of the film, and the idea of one big island family is very appealing. The Island is gorgeous, and the cinematography captures it beautifully. The film often looks like an advert for a digital camera, the team playing keepie uppie before the setting sun, or back-flipping out of the ocean (water is everywhere; it rains for at least half the movie), always in slow motion. These moments of spectacle are some of the most enjoyable in the film, and the combination of sublime moments of beauty and the tension of watching a team you have come to know and love make for excellent pacing. Indeed one of the only criticisms is that you are left wanting more after some of the fastest 97 minutes of your cinema life, and you'll likely miss the players when the film ends.
The games themselves are exciting; the editing is cinematic, and although the football isn't high quality, you're so invested in the players that it's as tense, joyous and desperate as watching your own team, and I had to refrain from cheering a few times in a fairly empty screening. It's like watching your kid's team play, only with tasteful, suspenseful slow motion. The theme of family and togetherness is the most prominent. The team has stuck together, facing constant defeat without a goal in the last seventeen years, and the sacrifices they make for each other, putting in hours of training before and after every full day of work is astounding. Filmmakers have tried to tell their story before, but fear of ridicule has denied them access to the team. Directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison's angle however is the impressively noble fact that they even try when the odds are stacked so highly against them, and that the love of the game and each other is what's really important.
- May 9, 2014