Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on July 30, 1981
Directed by John Huston
Written by Evan Jones and Yabo Yablonsky
Cast: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Max von Sydow, George Mikell, Anton Diffring, Carole Laure, Gary Waldhorn, Tim Pigott-Smith, Bobby Moore, Michael Summerbee, Daniel Massey, Osvaldo Ardiles, John Wark, Kaz Deyna
Imagine yourself a prisoner of war in 1942, playing in an exhibition soccer game against your most feared and hated enemy, at a stadium miles away from the camp where you’ve been interned, and you have the option at halftime to either make a clean and successful escape to freedom with your teammates, or to bypass this golden opportunity and inexplicably return to the playing field to finish the second half of the match, where afterwards you’ll be returned to imprisonment under the malevolent thumb of the Nazis. A no-brainer, right?
Well, for director John Huston and screenwriters Evan Jones and Yabo Yablonsky, their decision was purely a cinematic one, and a misguided one at that: for the climactic wrap-up of their wartime sports film, which was based in part on the ‘Death Match’ soccer game between German soldiers and Ukrainian bakery employees during World War II, they opted to have their team of Allied POWs ignore their iron-clad avenue of escape and continue playing the game!
And that was the fatal flaw of Victory, a mostly well-done and entertaining war drama cast in the mold of The Great Escape and The Bridge on the River Kwai, with soccer as the means to an end for the Allied prisoners. Up to that improbable point of the story, Huston had done a fine job of keeping the narrative in-check, supplying the film with the necessary doses of realism and enthusiasm, and ensuring that the tone remained matter-of-fact throughout: the 1940s wartime atmosphere was stark and listless, the camp and its surroundings were mundane, and the soccer game sequences were exciting and appropriately portrayed.
And while the acting was either hit or miss (Sylvester Stallone, as the Canadian Army player Hatch, was definitely a miss), I was most impressed with Michael Caine’s Allied coach and Max von Sydow’s soccer-enthusiast German officer: their interactions and conversations were exceptional, and by far my favorite moments of the film. It’s too bad, though, that the filmmakers didn’t take an extra minute or two and work out the mechanics of the film’s absurd conclusion; why not have the initial escape plan thwarted, so the players were then forced to continue with the game and activate a Plan B instead? This, for me, would’ve been more believable, and made for a much improved and more watchable film. (5/10)