" Do you think this is a little bit cathartic for you?”
“Uh, very cathartic”
“Do you know what cathartic means?”
“No. "

— Mmark Borchamp & Mike Schank, American Movie

MRQE Top Critic

The Rhythm Section

Blake Lively, one of the world's most beautiful women, goes all-in as a down-and-out girl. —Matt Anderson (review...)

The Rhythm Section

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As well intentioned as it may be, Goal! The Dream Begins, unfortunately, misses the net. Ultimately, the drama doesn’t go deep enough and the euphoria on the pitch doesn’t rise high enough.

The Beautiful Dream

It’s never really demonstrated that Santiago has a burning dream of playing professional futbol
It’s never really demonstrated that Santiago has a burning dream of playing professional futbol

There can never be too many iterations of the timeless story about a boy who follows his dream. But, as inherently great and inspirational as the story can be, it still needs to be told well.

Technically, Goal! The Dream Begins is a well-made movie. It’s terrifically photographed and the cast is, across the board, spot on. But the problem in this iteration lies in the story itself.

Young Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker, Lucia, Lucia) is an illegal alien living in Los Angeles. The movie actually starts with him as a little boy, dodging the Mexican border patrol as he crosses the border into the United States with his dad, brother, and grandmother. One treasure he’s forced to leave behind in the chaos is his soccer ball.

He loves to play soccer on the dusty streets of his hometown and on the green pitch of L.A. He’s hardcore; he can make impromptu shin pads out of a trashed cardboard box. But plenty of kids do that out of sheer pleasure on a daily basis all over the globe.

It’s never really demonstrated Santiago has a burning dream of playing professional futbol, a desire that exceeds any of those other kids playing out there on the field or in the street. Not, that is, until a former scout and coach, Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane, The Greatest Game Ever Played), spots him, quite by chance, on that L.A. field.


From there, the clichés pile on quickly. First, there’s the cranky alcoholic father (Tony Plana, The Lost City) who squashes Santiago’s dreams at every turn. Don’t get him wrong, Santiago’s dad does think his son belongs on the turf, but he should be mowing it, not kicking a soccer ball around on it.

But mowing lawns for the rich and famous shows Santiago another world, one filled with swimming pools and hot chicks who show their appreciation for his athletic build with a curled up smile and a wink. Santiago quietly yearns for more.

While those girls might disagree, Santiago is not really the next Superman. His Kryptonite is a little more commonplace, though; he has asthma. It’s a physical malady that Goal! strains to use as a dramatic element, but it simply doesn’t work.

Santiago doesn’t really pursue his dream in earnest until the final half hour or so; until then, others continue to push the dream on him through a series of circumstances and unlikely twists of fate that keep the dream alive in spite of Santiago. As much as the movie tries to pin Santiago’s reluctance toward bliss following on inner conflict courtesy of his dad, it, like the asthma, doesn’t bend the way the storytellers had intended.

Alas, the spirit is willing, but the movie is weak.

The Beautiful Game

British director Danny Cannon, best known for multiple contributions to the CSI TV franchise… and Judge Dredd, handles both L.A. and Newcastle well. There’s the warm color palette for L.A., while Newcastle turns to cooler, bluer hues.

And the entire cast does come to play with their game face on. Becker is a likable chap and he brings a tangible goodness to Santiago. Equally watchable is Marcel Iures (Layer Cake) as Erik Dornhelm, Newcastle United’s manager.

Dillane, though, nearly steals the show with his understated, calm demeanor and faux Scottish brogue.

In supporting roles, Anna Friel (Me Without You) as Roz Harmison, Santiago’s love interest, and Alessandro Nivola (Junebug) as Gavin Harris, a playboy soccer player with a good heart, both do well.

It’s worth noting that despite his foreign-sounding name, Nivola is one of the few Americans in this production. And, as an extra bonus, he gets to hobnob with a handful of the game’s real stars, including David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, who had the great misfortune of melting down at precisely the wrong time during the 2006 World Cup finals.

Perhaps next time this episode’s shortcomings will be rectified. Yes, the Goal! saga will continue. Goal! 2: Living the Dream is already in post-production and Goal! 3 (no subtitle yet) is right on its heels in pre-production (and it reportedly centers around the 2006 World Cup; no word yet on Zidane’s involvement).

DVD Extras

The supplemental features almost make the case that the movie is better than it really is. Almost.

For starters, consider the feature commentary with director Cannon and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Even as they talk about how they refurbished the original script by Mike Jefferies and Adrian Butchart in a scant three weeks, the most interesting aspect is how totally oblivious they are to the weaknesses in the story.

There are also three featurettes, the best of which is Behind the Pitch, an 11-minute segment about the making of the movie. It makes the argument that futbol, the world’s biggest sport, has never been properly put on film. To its credit, it is an interesting look behind the scenes, including some surprising revelations about how the game sequences were put together.

The Beautiful Game is a 7-minute featurette about the futbol phenomenon (it’s described here as Beatlemania all over again). It’s fluffy and mostly of use to those unfamiliar with the “other” football game. It includes interviews with the film’s cast and crew along with footage of the one-club city that is Newcastle, England, and the stars of Real Madrid.

Golden Moments from the FIFA Cup is an all too brief 3 ½-minute look at a handful of World Cup highlights, including 1958, 1966, 1998, and 2002.

Finally, there’s the music video for Playground Superstar by the Happy Mondays. It’s always good to see Shaun Ryder. He’s got the sneer and the sunglasses. Dang. The man even swaggers when he’s sitting on a bar stool.

Picture and Sound

The film’s picture quality is excellent, featuring a beautiful 16:9-enhanced presentation in the film’s original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The sound is also nicely done, particularly during scenes backed up with soundtrack contributions from Oasis and Happy Mondays. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is available in English, Spanish, and French. There are also English captions as well as Spanish subtitles.

How to Use This DVD

Start with the movie. It’s essentially Rocky on a soccer pitch. Then check out Behind the Pitch, The Beautiful Game, and Golden Moments from the FIFA Cup. If you’re into some rock ‘n’ roll, then the Happy Mondays video will be in order.

Once armed with all that video input, tackle the commentary and see if Cannon, Clement, and La Frenais can persuade you that the film is great.