Goal. Goal? Goal. That really is the staggeringly inventive title of this film. There are no prizes for guessing what it’s all about, in fact you should probably suffer a penalty if you can’t deduce the subject matter from the title. They might as well have called it ‘Football’. Despite its unimaginative Ronseal title, Goal! is unique as being the only film about the beautiful game to be made in collaboration with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA to the common man), and jolly old Sepp Blatter has given it his stamp of approval. Oh goody. It’s hard to retain any lofty expectations for this film after a first glance, and even easier to dismiss it as yet another rags-to-riches tale dressed up in a shiny kit. To an extent it is that, but there’s also a surprising side to it that’s likely to please even the most jaded movie-goer. You could say it’s a film of two halves.
Let’s get straight to the action. Goal! is the story of one Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker), a Mexican boy living in Los Angeles after his family snuck across the border. Together with his father (Tony Plana) he eeks out a living; gardening over here, bus-boying over there, and constantly dreaming of using his footballing skills on the world stage. We all know where this is going and clearly so do the editors, who rarely linger and keep Santi’s train to stardom chugging along nicely. The narrative is predictable; yes, there’s a love interest, of course there’s some familial opposition, and much sage advice is dished out to our young hero as he progresses. But none of this was a problem for me. Everything runs smoothly from one situation to the next and it’s all presented in a way that’s disarmingly nice and tied with a tidy ribbon. Part of the visual pleasure comes from the official teams, stadiums, and the who’s-who list of footballing cameos. It could be argued (feebly) that their presence is to ground this Cinderella story in the real world, but they’re obviously there for the sake of it. We see Santi chat to Raúl and Zidane in a club, witness the sheer power of Shearer in the gym, and even get congratulated by Beckham who turns up like a prophet out of the blue to foreshadow events to come in the sequel. Absolutely ridiculous. Even Sven gets in on the act.
All this endorsement gets me thinking and I like to imagine that there’s a better independent film out there that lacks the visual flair of this one, much like Pro Evo lacked the edge over the old FIFA games when it came to the aesthetic department. It probably has a cult following too. Anyway….
On one side, Goal! is as generic as they come. It uses a tried and true formula and doesn’t aim to fix what ain’t broke. However, it is the ways in which it tries to push into the realms of compelling that make it a worth a watch. Small things stand out to me; the tracking shots of Tyneside, the wry humour from its residents, Santiago’s muddy football baptism. These are all well and good, but what got me invested in this film is obvious from the get-go. Kuno Becker brings an endearing naiveté and energy to the lead role, and an immense amount of heart. He embodies the pure dream of Santiago which is essentially the pure dream of football. You play it because you love it.
If there are any other messages that the film is trying to get across, then they are drowned out by that singular thrust of the story, and this focus makes it easy to connect with the grinning Mexican who just wants to kick a ball around. I don’t agree a lot with FIFA, or Blatter, but Goal! is told in a way that ignites my interest in the sport and results in me patting Munez heartily on the back as he trots onto the field, and then roaring encouragement to him from the touch-line like an over-zealous parent…even if I’m only doing it inside.
As a special way to end this review, I asked my friend Tiago, (a hardened football fan and a Northerner no less) to contribute his thoughts on Goal! This is what he had to say:
“Simply brilliant and 4 out of 5 stars (like they always give a film) doesn’t do it justice. Shola is a beast.”