Soccer Against the Enemy, Again

On the 30th anniversary of its theatrical release: the case for remaking Victory.

As far as I can tell, Vinnie Jones’ magnum opus is dead.  

If you subscribe to the theory that inspiration is to be found in the most unlikely sources, then it figures it’d be Jones, the former Wimbledon Bash Brother turned filmdom’s stock British tough guy, who would have Hollywood’s best idea in the past couple of years: a remake of Victory.[1]

Unfortunately, the idea seems little more than that. The most recent article I can find detailing Vinnie Jones’ quest to film a remake of Victory is this one, dated approximately four months ago. His IMDB profile makes no mention of it, nor does his Wikipedia page. The only news that seems to have emerged from the project, in fact, is Jones’ desire to cast Wayne Rooney or Paul Gascoigne or David Beckham or all three in the project.

It’s a shame, because Victory’s time has come. Sure, it made just $10 million at the U.S. box office on its first run,[2]  but that’s exactly the point. They’ve already taken sports classics and bastardized them — The Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, Rollerball. Why wouldn’t they try again with a movie that had potential that it failed to live up to, in a market today that would be infinitely more receptive to a soccer movie?

Once they do – whether Vinnie Jones is involved or not – here are four tips for how to do it right.

1. Find a director who won’t mail it in

John Huston is a legend, but not because of Victory. Unlike the late career miscues of other great directors — Jack, Hereafter, BattleshipVictory is a great idea let down by the man behind the camera. The pacing is wonky,[3] the action confusing and every scene that takes place at night or in a dark interior – be that a sewer or the shower room Sylvester Stallone breaks out of with his pants on – looks like it was lit by a handful of glowsticks.

Worst of all, the movie doesn’t have a sense of place. Despite the Spartan barracks and talk of escape, these men never feel like they’re at war. The POW compound and the officers are clearly modeled after those in The Great Escape, but Victory’s prison often seems like three separate worlds that intersect only at tangents with one another: that of the players on the team, that of the British officers who form the camp’s chain of command, and that of Sylvester Stallone, who is no Steve McQueen.[4]

2. Add some adversity for the team

This is standard sports movie stuff, but there’s no doubt it’s missing from Victory. Up until matchday, the biggest conflict concerning the team is whether they’re going to get enough to eat before the game. All the tension is focused on the escape; Sylvester Stallone’s Hatch carries all the dramatic weight. Injury, infighting, ineptitude, give us something, anything with the team’s other ten members.

Maybe the other prisoners are jealous of the team’s special treatment and start making life hard for them. Maybe the ranking officer decides to do more than wag his finger at Michael Caine’s Captain Colby. Maybe they disagree over training methods or strategy. Maybe one of the best players decides to go ahead with the halftime escape, leaving them to mount a comeback without him. There’s a precedent for this: Pele spent most of the original’s match on the sidelines injured, returning only to equalize with his bicycle kick. He never even had the chance to make good on his tactical contribution:

3. Film the soccer better

The bar has been raised, not by Paramount and Columbia, but by adidas and Nike, Pepsi and ESPN. That’s not to say shoot the whole thing as a series of trick compilations: even the quality of live broadcasts has improved in the last few decades. Have you tried watching a classic match recently?

For all Michael Caine’s talk of playing a passing game and letting the ball do the work, the Allies seem to have most of their best moments stem from someone taking on the Nazis on the dribble. We know there’s more to the game than that, and they’d do well to have less dribbling by the likes of Pele and Osvaldo Ardiles and more devastating counters,[5] incisive passing or cheeky chances perfectly taken.

Since the advent of YouTube, the soccer fanbase has a library of great goals available for recall either mentally or digitally. Make sure the goals are great, but that they flow from the game. We’re used to wide shots and replays that show both feet and face. Make sure we know who has the ball, and where it’s going; don’t just give us shots of feet dribbling down the sideline or, a personal pet peeve of mine, one of someone kicking a ball, then a cut to the other player receiving it God knows where on the pitch.

One more thing: A bicycle kick is no longer worthy of a Jackie Chan special, shot from two angles and in slow motion with the Avatar soundtrack in the background. Even Wayne Rooney can do one now, you know.

4. Get the new team right

For that, you’re going to have to check back tomorrow for our Tuesday XI: Recasting Victory.


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1. Escape to Victory overseas.

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2.That’s $28 million, adjusted for inflation. These days I don’t think Pele would even agree to be in your movie for less than $28 million.

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3. The script was written by someone named Yabo Yablonsky, whose other film writing credits include The Manipulator, Portrait of a Hitman, and Jaguar Lives!

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4. To Huston’s credit, he gets good work out of his cast of footballers. Their lines, and I think only Pele gets to speak more than two sentences at a time, are delivered naturally, if not comfortably.

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5. Which we Americans in particular have experience cheering for:

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2 Responses to Soccer Against the Enemy, Again

  1. Pingback: The Tuesday XI | The Other 87

  2. Pingback: A Running Diary of “Victory” | The Other 87

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