The problem with Shooting for Socrates is that the football is really a backdrop for writing a feel good story about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. And while sport as metaphor is the motivation for many soccer movies, in this case, the film doesn’t find its chemistry and feels like oil and water. Categorized as both drama and comedy, the film feels like neither.
The film is largely the story of the Northern Ireland team that qualified for World Cup 1986 in Mexico, and the parallel story of young fan Tommy who is turning 10 years old, and his family.
The plot emphasis is on the team’s final group match against Brazil, which will be a contest like David and Goliath. In this case, David is David Campbell (Nico Mirallegro), a 21 year old youngster who makes the WC roster even though he’s never met Manager Billy Bingham. He tells his Dad the spot is a cruel joke until he hears his announcement on the radio.
On the comedic side, Irish announcer Jackie Fullerton and his unlucky cameraman provide some levity. There is also a bit about Tommy’s uncle, who raises funds to follow the team to Mexico. And it was interesting to see that the team practiced in New Mexico to get used to the heat. I felt that John Hannah was woefully miscast as Manager Billy Bingham, as you expect him to be funny, but his character is serious throughout the film.
On the dramatic side, the story could have centered on Campbell’s evolution to becoming a starter, or the effects of playing in the streets when armed soldiers and tanks are rolling through your neighborhood. But all of that is downplayed; the issues are there but they feel like more backdrop. Reading the IMDB plot summary gives a good idea of what the film was trying to achieve.
Why center on Campbell?
Writer-Director James Erskine has created a number of sport and soccer films, including One Night in Turin and 2 episode of the Amazon TV series This is Football. He said he got onto this story when he met David Campbell at a party. After WC 1986, Campbell was a journeyman footballer but eventually developed his own academy.
“… I was just chatting to him and I asked what he did and he said he used to be a footballer. I asked him about the biggest game he’d ever played in and he said he’d played for Northern Ireland when they’d played Brazil in the World Cup and I said “I don’t believe that ever happened”, and he told me to look it up.”Director James Erskine
Why center on Brazil?
Like many football films, Shooting for Socrates was initially targeted to be released before a World Cup, in this case WC 2014 in Brazil. Perhaps that’s why the title was named for Brazilian player Sócrates. But since Socrates plays such a small role in this story, I found it confusing — as if Cecil B. DeMille were to create a David and Goliath epic but entitle the film “Goliath”.
But as a side effect, I was inspired to find a way to watch Democracy in Black and White. To learn more about Northern Ireland, I’m also inspired to watch co-writer Marie Jones’ play “A Night in November”.
The soccer in the film is pretty slim and unconvincing. There are some very small highlights from games. I don’t know if Nico Mirallegro is a footballer, but he also has a small role in The Pass.
5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5