This is one of those films that when you learn of it you think to yourself ‘really? That exists?’, and ‘how come I’ve never heard of it before?’. This is a World War II P.O.W. drama in which Michael Caine must train a group of prisoners to form an Allies football team to take on the fully fit German national team in Vichy France. Command in the camp order Caine not to comply but he tells them to stuff it – and guess who’s in goal for the allies? Sylvester Stallone. Oh yes.
Max von Sydow plays the fairly sympathetic Nazi who used to be a professional player in days gone by, and thus he brainchilds the showdown before his superiors hijack it for propaganda. The film is perhaps somewhat light on what living in a Nazi P.O.W. camp was actually like, and when Caine makes the salient point that the set-up is completely unfair given the emaciated state of his players you are in agreement, until you realise the Allies’ team is comprised of Pelé, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst… and the list of international professional football players goes on.
It’s a reworking of the 1962 Hungarian film ‘Two Half Times in Hell’, itself based on the real life death matches played out by Ukrainian teams versus the Nazis, and was directed by the legendary John Huston with a memorable soundtrack highly reminiscent of the ‘Great Escape’ (63) from composer Bill Conti (‘Rocky’ 76), which you may recognise from some of the recent Sky Sports adverts. The sporting moments (some of which were choreographed by Pelé himself) whilst not the most amazing ever filmed are nevertheless continuously engaging, as indeed are the roars and sways of the crowd, and although the camera lingers a little too long here and there, and some of the details feel a little flimsy, this is still a really enjoyable, singularly unique, war sports film.