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Arguably one of the most unfairly derided boys own movies out there?
on 15 February 2011
World War II and the Nazi officers come up with a propaganda driven idea for the German national football team to play a team composed of Allied Prisoners of War. Led by Capt. John Colby (Michael Caine) the prisoners agree, but there's more than just propaganda at stake here.
Directed by John Huston in the twilight of his career, Escape To Victory, in spite of it being a perennial Bank Holiday viewing in the UK, is a film that's often used as a kicking post by critics. It's hard to understand why such a fun and harmless piece can cause such derision in cinematic circles. It can't be expectation because when you read the plot, see that Sylvester Stallone is playing in goal and that a tubby 48 year old Caine is the captain of this soccer team!; well surely you know this film isn't all about about cranial depth encompassing the propaganda machinations of the Nazi regime?.
Using real footballers (notably Pelé, Bobby Moore and Osvaldo Ardilies) is what makes Escape To Victory work as entertainment for so many people in the UK. Huston, much like Stallone, hadn't got a clue how to make a football based movie. In stepped the footballers to choreograph the film's football sequences, sequences that give the film some truly memorable moments (Pelé overhead kick, Ardiles rainbow flick, and erm, Stallone penalty save). They couldn't act for toffee, none of them, but that's where Caine comes in. Guiding them thru their scenes, Caine was highly thought of on the set by the players, a sort of father figure by all accounts, not just on the set, but in the bar too. Stallone excepted (he was off doing his own thing most of the time), it was a happy shoot, and that shows in the movie, the non actors growing in confidence as the movie progresses. While the film ultimately deals in escapist fun, it's not without moments of poignancy too. A sacrificial break for the war effort induces winces across the board, whilst the arrival of the Eastern Block players from the work camps demands our utmost heartfelt attention.
Is Escape To Victory a great film? No, of course not. But it is a darn good one. A film that's easy to lose oneself in during the holiday periods. With Caine flicking the Vs, Max Von Sydow being classy as usual and some legendary footballers strutting their stuff, what's not to enjoy? Really?. 7/10