Having the decency of respecting the loathing of real Brian Clough’s family towards the novel this movie is based upon, I have to review this film as a pure work of fiction. In that regard what a brilliant film Tom Hooper made out of the wonderful script by Peter Morgan. A film much to the credit of the cast gets us hooked on this strong man Brian Clough played by a sincerity of immense calibration by Michael Sheen. Peter Morgan loves real life events taking up the screen while Michael Sheen loves being in his screenplay.
Told in back and forth period from the time in 1974 when Brian Clough replaces Don Revie (Colm Meaney) as the manager for the Leeds United football club and then to the origin of the drive Clough had to have to destroy Don Review happening in 1969. Working alongside his buddy and reliable friend Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), Clough jumps around like a mad kid winning a candy about being picked for his team Derby County to battle against the all mighty Leeds United. He is the manager of this little known club living in Division 2 league which for an illiterate football follower like me means low in the category of being played in professional football in Europe. And in the present 1974, Clough cannot hold the win over Don Revie in replacing the man himself, though Revie took the job as the manager of England team. He skips the initial meet with the club members to give a boasting interview to the Yorkshire television. This is his time and he relishes every minute of it.
Clough is arrogant, self righteous and embodies a body language of being that someone who wants to be someone else. He has personally ran a column to all the media he could find to tell about the rampaging of a lovely game by Leeds United under the reigns of Don Revie of making it dirty and savagery. Here he is to correct it all. That is not the agenda though. He has achieved what he wanted but how he wants to do it is not even an after thought. He is a man of elation unknown for the next purpose in life or at least the next purpose does not seem close enough for him to be driven as who he always has been, a brilliant manager with his football better half Peter Taylor. We notice that man is absent out here and that is blatant in his attitude.
A man idolizing Don Revie during his tenure on Derby County feels snubbed and humiliated when Revie denies a handshake knowingly or unknowingly. Any idolization demands a serious opposite reaction of being ignored. This fire which ignites takes him to heights and brings him down like a rock, shattering into pieces. We have a drive in our passion and a person to admire and follow. It is human to elevate them to the highest but as it grows into an obsession, that becomes an act of aggressive narcism. “The Damned United” is a movie on that and the medium is the game of football.
Rarely do we see the actual game in the film, because this is not about the tension or soapy predictable win in the end sports flick. It is about the players behind the players and their ambitions or misguided one in this case. Michael Sheen has often proved that he can bode any real life character onto screen. Here without any iota of idea about Brian Clough, I could say that he does a perfect job of making a character out of him. Not mocking or mimicking but a true human being living, breathing and agonizing about the flame he has been preparing in himself.
Timothy Spall as his friend and standing aside as the wise man for this pit bull of a man can provide an effortless support. But his performance is the key to understanding Clough. If Clough and Taylor were made to be effective and honest together, so does Sheen and Spall as those people in bringing the audience to see what existed between those two.
“The Damned United” is an exercise in an execution of a screenplay that is more than perfect. A mastery in timing those scenes and bringing the works of these actors to put it at the right places depended upon the editing by Melanie Oliver and the direction of Tom Hooper. It tells a moral tale of how easy a force of aggression misfired might cause a fall of a leader and a good man. It comes close to real life and snatches away to make it the work of fiction without glamour and melodrama. Despite the complaints of deviating very far away from the real life, “The Damned United” is a perfect film and one of the best for the year of 2009.