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“The Beautiful Game” Scores a Win

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 28th, 2024

The Beautiful Game (Thea Sharrock, 2024) 4 out of 5 stars

The Homeless World Cup, begun in 2003, is a week-long international football (aka soccer) tournament that offers homeless people an opportunity to represent their countries in much the same way that players do in that other, professional World Cup that takes place every four years; this one is annual, however. In her new film, The Beautiful Game, director Thea Sharrock (The One and Only Ivan), working from a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Sometimes Always Never), creates a deeply inspirational tale with that event as its center. Though some of it may conform to predictable sports-movie formula, most of it is just lovely.

The cast offers the already solid script an excellent assist. They include Bill Nighy (Emma.), Cristina Rodlo (No One Gets Out Alive), Micheal Ward (Empire of Light), Susan Wokoma (Enola Holmes 2), and Kit Young (Netflix’s Shadow and Bone series), to name just some of the many fine actors in the ensemble; I especially enjoyed Robin Nazari as Aldar, a Kurdish refugee living in the UK. Combined with Sharrock’s alternatingly gentle and passionate mise-en-scène (whatever each sequence requires), the onscreen talent propels this movie to many winning goals.

l-r: Micheal Ward and Bill Nighy in THE BEAUTIFUL GAME ©Netflix

The story focuses primarily on the English team, headed by the widowed Mal, a well-known talent scout for professional leagues. He’s been doing this for a while, and throws his heart into the task, though he would not be against actually winning, for once. So when he sees Vinny (Ward) in a local park, interrupting a kids’ game to show off impressive skills, Mal approaches, hoping to recruit Vinny to join his other homeless players. “But I’m not homeless,” the man replies.

Not so fast, for the truth here is a lot more complicated. Vinny has a past filled with ups and downs, and one thread of his history may have earlier intersected with Mal. Right now he does not appear to have an address, though he does have a car. The trick will be getting him to let go of his pride and accept his present circumstances. Maybe then he can heal and move on from recent wounds.

l-r: Cristina Rodlo and Sheyi Cole in THE BEAUTIFUL GAME ©Netflix

Vinny is not alone. His teammates each have their own list of tragedies and mistakes that have brought them to this point, and the movie treats them all with the consideration they deserve as human beings. The same holds true once we get to Rome, site of the 20th Homeless World Cup. We encounter members of teams from many other countries and become at least peripherally involved in their lives, too.

The competition progresses; some lose, some win. Despite Mal’s hope for a medal (a hope that by no means keeps him from seeing the big picture), that’s not the point. The Beautiful Game is about the dignity of self-respect and the love we should feel for everyone, especially those who need it most. It’s a movie that displays incredible generosity towards its characters, even when they misbehave. That’s the score, and it’s hard to beat.

Sheyi Cole, Kit Young, Callum Scott Howells, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and Robin Nazari in THE BEAUTIFUL GAME ©Netflix

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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