Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Game of Their Lives

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild language and thematic elements

Reviewed by: Willie R. Magnum, Jr.

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Drama, Sports
1 hr. 35 min.
Year of Release:
Featuring: Gerard Butler, Wes Bentley, Jay Rodan, Gavin Rossdale, Patrick Stewart
Director: David Anspaugh
Producer: Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin, Ginger T. Perkins
Distributor: IFC Films
Copyright, IFC Films
Copyright, IFC Films
Copyright, IFC Films
Copyright, IFC Films
Copyright, IFC Films
Relevant Issues
Copyright, IFC Films

The legendary true story / The match against the British in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on June 19, 1950 was “the game of their lives.”

Time has certainly drawn us, as Americans, to the game of football (world football, not our modern day gladiatorial game fraught with angst and threatened by steroid scandal)—the gentleman’s game that draws men and women by the tens of thousands all over the world. Soccer is a game that America has only recently embraced, in spite of the fact that most of her emigrants brought with them an exuberant and skilled participation in the game. And that is where “The Game of Their Lives” begins, within the context of this cultural heritage.

In 1950 soccer, like the people groups who played the game, was found within the cultural boroughs and communities that the American experiment had created. “Lives” begins within the context of a small St. Louis community known as “the Hill” where everyday men get together to forget about their everyday lives for a chance to become everyday heroes. For 90 minutes they can leave their cares behind and focus their attention on one event that, at the end of the time, will be resolved, either in victory or defeat.

For five of these young men from “the Hill,” the 1950 World Cup was a once in a lifetime chance to wear the colors and display, before the world, the American spirit. Some of the men got it and some of them didn’t. Frank Borghi (Gerard Butler, “Phantom of the Opera”) got it. Frank “Pee Wee” Wallace (Jay Rodan) didn’t get it, and neither did the filmmakers. The story drags most of the way through. The idea is there; the formula has been successful, but this time they simply could not put it together.

Toward the end of the movie, Coach Bill Jeffrey (John Rhys-Davies, “Lord of the Rings”) tells us that this is “a game of character and stamina.” It will take both to sit through the mismanaged story development and the thinly-veiled plotting of this underdog tale. The beginning sequence is salvaged and carried by Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek,” “X-Men,” “A Christmas Carol”), who was miscast as an older Dent McSkimming; he’s much too young. The supporting actor in this sequence delivered stilted lines and gave the film a rocky start, definitely not the best way to get the viewer into the gritty story of character and stamina.

The ensemble cast was talented enough and not hard to watch, but the script was frail, and the story was scattered and often times confusing. The soccer sequences were filmed from very interesting, “in the action” angles that were fun to watch. Though the outcome of the game against England is part of our history, there was just enough of an underdog connection to draw a slight reaction from the audience.

The movie was laced with mild profanity, and there were no instances of taking the Lord’s name with vain intent. There was no nudity; in fact, there were not any sexual situations in the film at all. When the boys were ready to be boys, all we knew was that they were headed out for a few beers and some dancing. There was a scene where “Pee Wee” intended to get drunk. Other than these few instances, this was a film that the whole family could watch, but parents should be ready to discuss.

The really questionable material was worldview-related and somewhat anti-Christian. Joe Gatjaens (Jimmy Jean-Louis, “Tears of the Sun”) practices voodoo during the first part of the movie. Later, during the flight to Brazil, he enters into a discussion with Borghi about religion, and they come to a subtle, non-verbal agreement that all religions should be respected. There is no discussion about the nature of true religion or the fundamental differences between religion based on superstition and Christianity, which is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Overall, the movie holds together well enough to be enjoyed by true soccer enthusiasts and younger teens. If you want to watch a well-crafted movie with soccer as a theme, check out “Victory.” But if you don’t mind a few sub-standard filmmaking techniques and want to watch a bit of very interesting sports history where, in the end, character wins out, then take the time to watch the boys from “the Hill” play “The Game of Their Lives!”

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/nudity: None

Year of Release—2005 / USA opening: April 22, 2005 (limited)

Movie Critics
…a perfectly reverent feel-good portrait…
—Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
…Truly appreciating “Lives” requires a love of the sport…
—E! Online
…a detailed yet uninvolving soccer film… Disappointing.
—Chuck Wilson, L.A. Weekly
…It’s a shame to say it when the filmmakers invested such clear and loving earnestness in “The Game of Their Lives. …Tepid soccer movie fails to score…
—David Germain, The Associated Press
…A limp retelling of one of soccer’s biggest upsets… has a great sports story to tell, yet the filmmakers fumble it away…
—Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
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