SOMEONE at Foxtel had the good sense to wait until after the NRL grand final before scheduling This Sporting Life (Monday, 10.30pm, Fox Classics), a searing portrayal of a rugby league player’s moral and emotional downfall. A film that depicts rugby league as a brutal and degrading sport would hardly have found favour with footy fans and sponsors last weekend.
This was the debut film of Lindsay Anderson ( If, O Lucky Man!), and quite by chance I watched it only a couple of weeks ago on DVD and was devastated by its power and realism. We follow the career of Frank Machin (Richard Harris), a Yorkshire coalminer who becomes a rugby hero with ruthless displays of on-field violence. Harris’s riveting performance is reminiscent of the young Marlon Brando and Rachel Roberts is superb as the embittered, loveless widow with whom Frank is obsessed. From its opening shot of a rugby scrum — shot from below — the film never relaxes its grip. There has been no sports film to compare with it.
If the networks are to be commended for showing This Sporting Life, they deserve even higher praise for showing Network (Sunday, noon, Fox Classics), a blistering attack on the moral vacuum in US television newsrooms. Peter Finch won an Oscar for playing Howard Beale, a veteran newsman with the (fictional) United Broadcasting System, who has a mental breakdown on air after being told that he’s about to be sacked. When he threatens to commit suicide on camera, ratings soar in anticipation.
In some ways Howard is the equivalent of Frank Machin in This Sporting Life: a celebrity on the edge of insanity, vulnerable to changing fashion and popular adulation. Among many great scenes in Sidney Lumet’s film there’s the one when Howard apologises to his millions of viewers and urges them to rebel against the injustice of the system with the cry, ‘‘ I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.’’ William Holden delivers a fine sardonic portrayal of a network news boss.
Richard Gere, who plays the crooked investment banker in Arbitrage (now in cinemas), proved in Chicago (Sunday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama) that he can sing and dance as well. Bob Fosse’s legendary stage musical is given brilliant cinematic treatment in Rob Marshall’s film, with Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the homicidal gals who make it in showbiz in the roaring 20s. Great songs, funny characters and lavish production numbers staged with wondrous flair and invention.
Woody Allen’s new film To Rome with Love opens this month, and I can say nothing about it (except that I love it) but recommend in the meantime one of Woody’s darkest films, Crimes and Misdemeanours (Thursday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), a devious tale of murder and morality with Alan Alda and Martin Landau. The contrast with his latest piece of froth could not be greater.
Renee Zellweger in Chicago