Kuno Becker as Santiago Munez
Alessandro Nivola as Gavin Harris
Stephen Dillane as Glen Foy
Tony Plana as Hernan Munez
Marcel Iures as Erik Dornhelm
Leonardo Guerra as 10-Year-Old Santiago
Anna Friel as Roz Harmison
Jorge Cervera as Cesar
Sean Pertwee as Barry Rankin
Cassandra Bell as Christina
Directed by Danny Cannon
“Goal! The Dream Begins” doesn’t break any new ground in the sports genre, but for an inspirational story set in the world of soccer, you could do a heck of a lot worse than this enjoyable and often entertaining movie.
Santiago Muñez (Kuno Becker) is a Mexican immigrant living in California, working as a landscaper and playing soccer in his free time, when he’s discovered by a British agent (Stephen Dillane) and urged to go to the tryouts for the British football team, Newcastle United. Santiago struggles to get the money for the trip to England, but once he arrives, he finds that it’s not as easy as he thought, but with the support of the team’s resident hotshot, Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), he might eventually make it to the main team.
Few studios have spent as much time and money trying to revive the classic sports drama than Disney, and with “Goal!,” they’ve taken a more ambitious approach to the genre with the tale of a young immigrant who follows his dream to play professional football. It’s a story so big that they decided that it needed to be told over the course of three movies. Yes, it’s a trilogy.
As a young boy, Santiago snuck across the Mexican-American border with his family, already having a soccer ball in his young hands. Years later, he’s playing amateur football with co-workers when he’s spotted by a British scout who sees potential in him. He makes a few calls and tells Santiago that if he can get to England for try-outs, he may be able to get onto the hugely popular Newcastle United team. Of course, Santiago’s father is not supportive of his son’s desire to pursue a career in football, which plays a large part in Santiago wanting to succeed and prove his father wrong, but Santiago also hopes that one day his father will be proud of him. But first he has to get to England, which poses a few problems, the first being money and the second being his lack of a green card. With the help of his grandmother, he gets to England, but learns that having skills and passing try-outs are two different things. The team owner sees potential and gives him more than a few chances, while Santiago develops a crush on the team nurse, who usually doesn’t date players but sees something special in the young American.
There isn’t anything that groundbreaking or amazing about this story of a boy following his dream, except that at least the game play and Santiago’s journey through the ranks of the British team seem fairly authentic, maybe due to the involvement of FIFA in producing the film. Those who enjoy British football should appreciate the efforts, while those who nothing about the game, may actually learn a thing or two.
While I’m sure young girls could spend a few hours swooning over dreamy Kuno Becker, he’s not a particularly good actor, playing off his charm to accent the nice guy aspect of the part, but then completely over-dramatizing when things get even remotely serious. On the other hand, Alessandro Nivola is far more convincing as the team’s partying superstar, hated by the fans because he’s not as good as he thinks. He takes Santiago under his wing, turns on him and then turns over a new leaf.
For the most part, it’s fairly predictable, and far too often, the film devolves into sentimentality and the type of obvious film storytelling that we’ve seen too many times before, particularly the subplot involving Santiago’s fathers. There’s also no reason why this movie needed to be two hours long, and I’m sure we could have done without one of the many scenes of Santiago not making the cut and being ready to go home with his head between his legs. Of course, it’s not too hard to figure out how it will end, especially when you consider that a sequel is already in production.
Director Danny Cannon does a decent job on the visual and technical side, particularly with the football action that makes you feel as if you’re one of the players on the pitch. The fan in me wishes there were more of it. He also gives the film a decidedly Anglocentric feel with the heavy use of Oasis tunes in the soundtrack.
One thing that bothered me is that the movie has a PG rating, but gets away with quite a bit of foul language through the use of subtitles (one “bullsh*t”) and the use of British accent and slang–a number of “shites” and I thought that someone may have been called a “right c*nt”–but it could have easily slipped by. It’s a shame that the film couldn’t be more geared towards the kids who might actually have a dream to play the sport themselves some day, but those issues aside, the film is fairly harmless and often enjoyable.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of European or English football, the authenticity to this sports story may allow you to forgive some of the more wince-worthy sentimental moments. Santiago’s inspirational story and the soccer action certainly made me want to see what happens to him next.