The Beautiful Game (2024)

Saving each other in ‘The Beautiful Game’ (2024)



I don’t know why The Beautfiul Game has so many reviews in big publications. Is it because actor Bill Nighy is in his prime, or is it because Director Thea Sharrock and actor Micheal Ward are gaining traction? Or is it simply because it is a Netflix film?

If you are the Homeless World Cup organization, you’ve got to be happy with the result. This film brings a lot of exposure to an NGO that uses an annual football tournament to make the public more aware of homelessness, and that gives thousands of homeless a shot at rehabilitation through sport.

About the Story (Spoiler Alert)

In the story, Coach Mal Bradley (Bill Nighy) tries to recruit talented Vinny (Micheal Ward) to join his England team, which is going to the Homeless World Cup (HWC) in Rome. Vinny resists, insisting that he is not homeless, but he ends up going along in order to save face with his 8 year old daughter and her mum.

Once in Rome, Vinny is the star of his team, but he treats his teammates badly. He sleeps on a park bench rather than share a hotel room with them. Gradually Vinny learns his teammate’s stories: Nathan is a heroin addict, Cal neglected his child, Kevin is a gambler, and Aldar is a Kurdish Syrian refugee. Vinny’s teammates are nothing but warm to him, but while Vinny’s empathy grows, he still keeps his distance and his otherness and repeatedly fails them.

Toward the end, we find out that Vinny’s fall from grace is that he used to play for West Ham. For Vinny, not being good enough for West Ham made him Hopeless Worthless and Homeless. Vinny didn’t know that Mal Bradley was the man who scouted him at age 12. And Coach Mal felt badly about never seeing the ones who don’t make it. So when he spotted Vinny and his situation, he was compelled to try and help the lad.

And of course, mixed in with this story, the team gets to the bronze medal game. Along the way are other homeless stories, such as an uptight Japanese female coach who discovers the beauty of Rome, a South African team led by a competitive nun, and Rosita, an American Dreamer who hopes her performance in the HWC will lead to soccer opportunity somewhere.

About the Soccer

The 4v4 soccer is pretty well portrayed, including good fan enthusiasm in the stands. HWC staffers and former participants serve as extras on the teams. Micheal Ward is an Arsenal fan and played a lot in his youth. Either he can dribble and juggle the ball very well, or the CGI is very good. If it’s all real and really him, then he is one of the better footballing actors that I’ve seen.

It’s interesting the 2021 filming took place in Rome, as the HWC has never been played there; HWC 2009 was held in Milan. During the pandemic, there was no HWC from 2020-2022.

Football aficionados might have issue with some ideas in the film. Vinny never practices with the team before going to Rome. The team all get passports just before leaving. Coach Mal gets sent off twice for referee abuse over 3 games. In any tournament, that would pretty much send you home. 🙂

Bill Nighy gives a great performance as a coach. As a long-time Crystal Palace fan, he must have met a lot of coaches. And when he gets sent to the stands, he embodies a perfect screaming fan. I could watch Bill Nighy all day.

In Conclusion

Some reviews called The Beautiful Game a dramedy, but I frankly didn’t smile enough to consider it funny in any way. I’d call it a light-hearted drama. Director Thea Sharrock tries to develop depth in quite a few characters, and a few of those forays didn’t really make sense to me. E.g., Vinny’s teammate Jason gets accused of sexually harassing Rosita, but she accepts his apology of a Scottish smoked salmon he stole at the airport. Or, in another example, Aldar is some kind of math genius but really a barber.

I have reviewed a number of homeless world cup films, mostly documentaries. During the pandemic, a Korean HWC comedy called Dream was produced, which I quite enjoyed. Watch The Beautiful Game if you want to be inspired by all the background actor extras, who give truth to the theme of the story: “We don’t save ourselves, we save each other”. Or watch Dream because you want to watch a slightly quirky Korean comedy that challenges today’s cultural values.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7