American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Game of their Lives" tells the story of an astonishing soccer match in 1950, when an unsung team of Americans went to Brazil to compete in the World Cup, and defeated England, the best team in the world. So extraordinary was the upset, I learn on the Internet Movie Database, that "London bookmakers offered odds of 500-1 against such an preposterous event," and "The New York Times refused to run the score when it was first reported, deeming it a hoax."
So it was a hell of an upset. Pity about the movie. Obviously made with all of the best will in the world, its heart in the right place, this is a sluggish and dutiful film that plays more like a eulogy than an adventure. Strange, how it follows the form of a sports movie but has the dutiful feeling of an educational film. And all the stranger because the director, David Anspaugh, has made two exhilarating movies about underdogs in sports, "Hoosiers" (1986) and "Rudy" (1993).
In those films, he knew how to crank up the suspense and dramatize the supporting characters. Here, it feels more like a group of Calvin Klein models have gathered to pose as soccer players from St. Louis. Shouldn't there be at least one player not favored by nature with improbably good looks? And at least a couple who look like they're around 20 instead of 35? And a goalie who doesn't look exactly like Gerard Butler, who played "The Phantom of the Opera"? True, Frank Borghi, the goalie, is played by Butler, but that's no excuse; in "Dear Frankie," Butler played a perfectly believable character who didn't look like he was posing for publicity photos.
The one personal subplot involves a player who thinks he can't go to Brazil because it's a conflict with his wedding day. Instead of milking this for personal conflict, Anspaugh solves it all in one perfunctory scene: The coach talks to the future father-in-law, the father-in-law talks to his daughter, she agrees to move up the wedding, and so no problem-o.