Damned United, The (UK - BD)
Scott McKenzie remains neutral while reviewing this movie about dirty Leeds...
After Don Revie (Colm Meaney) leaves his job as manager of Leeds United to take over as England boss, the board at Elland Road appoint the best young English manager available—Brian Clough (Michael Sheen). With a long-standing grudge against Revie, Clough seeks to undo all the work his predecessor put in to get Leeds to the top of the league. However, the new regime is not welcomed by the players or the fans and as the results fail to emerge, he finds himself heading towards his inevitable dismissal before the ink has barely dried on his contract.
The important thing to bear in mind from the beginning about The Damned United is that while the story is based around true events, the movie is really based on the novel of the same name by David Peace, which is a fictionalised account of Brian Clough’s forty-four days in charge of Leeds United. The story goes back and forth between his time in charge at Leeds and his more successful period as Derby County’s boss. The structure works well because we are constantly reminded what a good manager Brian Clough was via the trips back in time, seeing as the story stops long before his incredibly successful run with Nottingham Forest.
The Damned United may appear to be the simple story of a man with an ego who struggles to win over the members of a new team, but there’s a lot more going on here. First of all, using Don Revie as the main antagonist is an excellent storytelling device. He’s off-screen for most of the movie, but crops up at key moments to annoy Clough merely by his presence, completely oblivious to the annoyance he’s causing. It’s only during the final showdown interview on Yorkshire TV that he truly learns the effect he’s had on Brian Clough. Colm Meaney is impressive in this role and the final scene between the two characters is a good pay-off for the emotional build-up throughout the movie.
The second interesting aspect of The Damned United is the relationship between Brian Clough and his assistant, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall). The key plot point is that while they both enjoyed great success at Derby, their departure happens in such a way that it sets the two men against each other and when the offer to manage Leeds comes along, Clough goes ahead without his long-time friend. The structure of this part of the story is very much like the tale of a man (Clough) who cheats on his wife (Taylor), realises the error of his ways and then goes back on his hands and knees asking for forgiveness. It’s a touching story and I’d take this over any number of Judd Apatow’s bromances any day.
I can’t write a review of this movie without mentioning Michael Sheen’s turn as Brian Clough. While he is in danger of being known as an impersonator for hire rather than the bona fide actor he is, Michael Sheen’s performance here is very impressive. In one early scene I did pick up on a line that made me think he was still channelling David Frost from Frost/Nixon, but other than that it was obvious that he’d put as much preparation into this role as he did when he played Kenneth Williams, David Frost and Tony Blair, a role he is due to reprise in next year’s The Special Relationship.
The look of The Damned United is important in setting the tone of the movie firmly in the past. The colours appear washed out but of course this isn’t a problem with the transfer, it’s the way it’s supposed to look. The 1080p picture is sharp and the best way to describe the presentation is ‘smoky’, as if everyone on set was sucking on a Woodbine from beginning to end. However, the smoky scenes do cause the transfer a few problems, and slight patches of grain can be found in darker areas. It’s nothing that should put any potential viewers off though—these are only small gripes about an otherwise great transfer.
Some of you who have read my previous reviews may know that I make notes while watching the discs I get to review. I sat through the whole of this movie listening to the TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack and when I got to the final credits, I looked down at my notebook and the only thing I’d written down in the audio section of the page for The Damned United was ‘TV movie’. It’s short but neatly sums up the audio experience you can expect to enjoy when you pop this disc in your player. No mind-blowing effects, not much clever use of surround channels, just clear dialogue and some background music, just like you’d expect from a TV movie.
There’s a decent selection of extras available here, starting with the commentary by Michael Sheen, director Tom Hooper and producer Andy Harries. It’s a lively commentary with discussions around how the actors were cast, the differences between football in the 70s and now and the implications of adapting a movie from a book that a number of the real-life players objected to. The nine deleted scenes come with optional director commentary and it’s interesting to hear Tom Hooper’s honest opinion on why these scenes were left out of the final cut. Some were left out because Brian Clough came across as too unsympathetic and others didn’t fit in with the look of the film and were too difficult to fit into a particular time zone in the movie.
‘Cloughisms’ (again with optional director commentary) is a short compilation of more deleted scenes showing Michael Sheen doing interviews as Brian Clough. ‘Perfect Pitch’ is the making of featurette that contains the usual interviews and clips from the movie but there are some interesting bits and pieces here including the search for actors who could also play football and how the filmmakers dressed up Chesterfield’s tumbledown stadium to double as Derby’s Baseball Ground. ‘Creating Clough’ looks at Michael Sheen’s preparation for his role in even more detail. He discusses the research he did, focusing on insights into the character and spending time reading up on cult leaders to get into Brian Clough’s magnetic personality.
‘Remembering Brian’ is the final featurette looking at the man himself, including interviews with the cast, crew and former players who talk about the effect he had on their lives and his playing career, which was cut short by injury. ‘Changing Game’ features interviews with former players and fans and mainly looks at the effect Don Revie had on the way Leeds United played in the 70s. Finally we get trailers for The International, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Angels & Demons, Terminator Salvation and Year One.
The Damned United is a showcase for British acting talent, with great performances from the whole cast, who do their best not to be upstaged by Michael Sheen as Brian Clough. The whole movie itself is a simple story told very well and I’d say there’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a football fan or not. The presentation is that of a high definition TV movie but the extras are pretty extensive and definitely offer a lot to fans of the movie and those looking for a bit of nostalgia about football in the good old days of tackles from behind.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 31st August 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Audio Description 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English HoH, Hindi
Extras: Commentary with Director Tom Hooper, Michael Sheen and Producer Andy Harries, Perfect Pitch: The Making Of The Damned United, Creating Clough: Michael Sheen Takes on 'Old Big 'Ead', The Changing Game: Football in the Seventies, Remembering Brian, Cloughisms with Optional Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent
Length: 97 minutes
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