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Cinema Signal:

. "The Game of Their Lives"

Soccer, it is thought by some, is the most popular sport event on a worldwide basis. This film will be of interest to all those stadium fillers who can applaud an American success or a British defeat. Of course, it delivers most for American fans because it's about an American team.

It was the spring of 1950. The U.S. was extended an invitation to compete in the World Cup in Brazil, and they had to put a team together in 10 days that wouldn't outright embarrass the country on the field.

To do that, organizers looked to top New York players and then to a few outstanding athletes playing in the hotbed of soccer fever at the time, St. Louis, Missouri. The lads there were little more than weekend futbol warriers and devoted lovers of the game. They all had day jobs, girlfriends, fiances, wedding plans, job dependencies.

A huge challenge was merely to get along with the eastern contingent, let alone learn to play together as a team.

This film is about the process of putting it together for their trip to Rio, where they were little more than curiosities. After a loss to Italy in a warm-up game, then being soundly defeated by Spain, so little was expected of them for the remainder of the series that the betting crowd didn't even bother to set odds on their chances in a match against the legendary and favored English boys.

The Brazilian fans bore no great love for the Brits and were quick to cheer lustily for every American move that proved successful -- until their support became a factor in the game by feeding the American team an energy and optimism that proved difficult to overcome.

This narrowly focused, devotional film details (to a fault) how a rag-tag assemblage of Sunday soccer players defied all odds in achieving an American dream and, it is suggested, opening the door for an actually competitive U.S. team.

For those to whom soccer is a ho hum sport, and to those with a limited appreciation for U.S. sport history, the film has little else going for it as it concentrates fully on the known details.

Indiana director David Anspaugh ("Hoosiers," 1986) pulled together an essentially good cast to convey the athletes, their intensities, rivalries and issues, and the inspirational one concerning the historical opportunity and its outcome. The proportion of footage devoted to actual field play is extreme by comparison to most other sports films, which works to the detriment of an audience looking for more universal meanings and more complete character identification. It is not a "Bull Durham."

But, let me be clear: if you share Anspaugh's deep feelings for this game, you will not want to miss his respectable study of triumph and well-earned pride.

This should not to be confused with the 2002 documentary about the Korean soccer team, sporting the exact same title.

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                                           ~~  Jules Brenner  


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 5

I disagree with your misleading review. My sentiments are that The Game of Their Lives is a damn good movie. It is a good story telling me about an actual event that I never knew happened.

                                                      ~~ Henry T.

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