Friday, February 6, 2009

Review: The Game of Their Lives (aka The Miracle Match)

The Game of their Lives (retitled The Miracle Match for the DVD release) is a 2005 film telling the story of the 1950 U.S. World Cup team that shocked the world by beating England 1-0. If Al Michaels were covering the match in 1950 he would have used his "Do you believe in miracles? YES" line for this team instead of the 1980 Olympic Hockey team.

The story is told from the perspective of the lone American reporter cover the World Cup, Dent McSkimming. Scenes of a older McSkimming (played by Patrick Stewart) being interviewed by MLS announcer and son of the 1950's team goalkeeper Ty Keough before the start of a MLS All-Star game. bookend the movie.

The movie spends the first half showing us the formation of the team, starting in St. Louis where most of the players lived and then moving to New York where other team members join the team, including Haitian Joe Gaetjens. The rules about nationalities weren't so strictly enforced in 1950 as they are now, and Gaetjens was working on his citizenship when invited to join the team. After the typical Hollywood "team bonding" scenes the squad leaves for the World Cup in Brazil.

In Brazil we get to see how little the world thought of the Americans, from being denied hotel rooms with the other squads to having to travel more than other teams, the Americans were clearly disrespected and seen as no threat to the "giants" of the world. Meanwhile we see the heavy favorites of England, in their first ever World Cup, treated like stars and overlooking their game against the Americans. The movie culminates on June 29th, 1950 with the match between England and the U.S. Joe Gaetjens scored int he 37th minute and Harry Keough turned in a goalkeeping performance for the ages as the U.S. upset England 1-0. Some papers in England were so arrogant that they assumed the score that came over the wire was a misprint and reported an 10-0 England win.

Every American soccer fan should see this movie. While it doesn't have the high-gloss of GOAL! or the story that everyone remembers like Miracle, its the same feel of underdogs prevailing. The soccer action is actually pretty good as they got former college and professional players like John Harkes and Nelson Vargas to play the roles of the 1950 players. The movie gives you a glimpse into what soccer was before the evolution into the current professional game over the last 15-20 years. While any movie like this takes its liberties with the "true story" you at least get the general history of what happened in America's only World Cup appearance between 1936 and 1990. I saw this movie shortly after the Americans disastrous performance in World Cup '06. There were a number of people, including myself, who felt like the players didn't "give it all for the shirt" and after seeing this movie you'll get an idea for what that really means.

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