|Goal! The Dream Begins (2006)
Starring: Kuno Becker, Stephen Dillane, Anna Friel
Director: Danny Cannon
The last time filmmakers planned out an entire trilogy before even beginning work on the first film, they had an incredibly talented director, some pretty impressive source material and a 50-year-old cult following that refused to simply watch from the sidelines. Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was truly revolutionary to the world of cinema, and its instant success has led to other studios greenlighting film franchises before a single scene has even been shot. The most recent example of this is in the FIFA-funded soccer (or futbol, for everybody else in the world) trilogy, “Goal!,” a sport that also happens to have a formidable fanbase going back several millennia. And while the British import certainly isn’t as magical as 2004’s “Bend It Like Beckham,” it’s a step in the right direction for the push to make soccer as popular in America as it is everywhere else.
Mexican television heartthrob Kuno Becker stars as Santiago Munez, a Mexican-American immigrant who enjoys playing soccer when he’s not too busy earning a living. While playing in his team’s weekly match-up, Santiago dazzles a former soccer scout from England (Stephen Dillane) and is offered a tryout for the English Premiere League’s Newcastle United, one of the biggest futbol clubs in the world. There’s just one catch: he has to pay his own way to England, and it will surely be without the help of his discouraging father (Tony Plana). But after scrounging up enough cash for a plane ticket, Santiago finally arrives in the “land of hope and glory” and is given one month to prove himself to Newcastle manager, Erik Dornhelm (Marcel Iures).
With a second film (titled “Goal! 2: Living the Dream…) already set for a September 1st release, and the third film currently in production, there’s really no point in hiding the fact that Santiago makes the team. In fact, the first installment will probably be the least exciting of the three, since Santiago is rumored to be transferred to Spanish club Real Madrid (alongside soccer superstar David Beckham) in the second film, and will then play for the national team at the 2006 World Cup in the third. It’s a bit worrisome, however, that Becker will be at the heart of all three films, since it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t been cast for his acting talent, but rather his amazing onscreen presence.
Thankfully, Becker’s lack of any emotional range doesn’t harm the final product, because while he lights up the screen on the soccer pitch, more capable actors (like Dillane and Alessandro Nivola, who plays Newcastle’s latest hotshot, Gavin Harris) fill in the rough patches with great supporting performances. And while the story can seem a bit schmaltzy at times (mostly at the hands of Becker’s second-rate performance), director Danny Cannon’s incredible coverage of the soccer action (constructed using real Premiere League footage) is easily worth the price of admission. This alone makes “Goal!: The Dream Begins” a worthy contender in a long line of sports dramas, and though it may not be a perfect winning shot, it still scores with fans of the game.
The DVD release for the first installment of the “Goal” trilogy isn’t particularly great, but it’s at least got a few extras to enhance the experience. Along with a director commentary that could use a little excitement, the single-disc DVD also includes a featurette on the worldwide soccer phenomenon (“The Beautiful Game”), a short making-of doc (“Behind the Pitch”) and a highlight reel of some of the World Cup’s finest moments.