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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

The end­less pro­lif­er­a­tion of stream­ing ser­vices, and pay tele­vi­sion gen­er­ally, means you can end up watch­ing all man­ner of movies be­yond your range of in­ter­ests. It is the para­dox of ex­cess choice. When you can see any movie you like any time you want, you end up hav­ing seen pretty well ev­ery movie that in­ter­ests you.

So then, in a some­what pe­cu­liar fash­ion, you watch movies by hap­pen­stance, much like we used to watch TV. You want to kill 90 min­utes and you’re too lazy to read a book, or per­haps there’s a so­cial el­e­ment in­volved ...

In any event, such is my jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for watch­ing a com­pletely run-of-the-mill Mark Wahlberg film, In­vin­ci­ble, the other night.

The plot is as corny as can be. An un­em­ployed, work­ing-class Philadel­phia school­teacher, down on his luck, de­serted by his wife and mak­ing ends meet by tend­ing bar, at­tends an open try­out for the city’s pro­fes­sional foot­ball team. And yes, the Cin­derella fairy story comes true. Against all odds he makes the cut, be­comes a star and wins both his for­tune and his true, new, love. That the film is based on a true story only serves to em­pha­sise the per­fect Amer­i­can cliche it em­bod­ies.

Al­most from the first mo­ment, you can fore­tell ev­ery de­vel­op­ment of the plot, al­most ev­ery scene. And yet this doesn’t de­tract much, if any­thing, from the film’s en­joy­ment. Wahlberg is a sym­pa­thetic, agree­able and win­ning ac­tor. The fa­mil­iar­ity of his char­ac­ter­is­tic moves and ges­tures is part of their charm.

All of which leads me to the fur­ther re­flec­tion of just how very well the Amer­i­cans make movies about sport. Base­ball, foot­ball, ice hockey, box­ing — Amer­i­cans rel­ish the epic po­ten­tial of sport. This most of­ten re­sides in the ex­is­ten­tial strug­gle of the in­di­vid­ual. Even team sto­ries are treated mainly as an amal­gam of such in­di­vid­ual strug­gles.

It is tempt­ing to see Amer­i­can sports movies as ex­pres­sions of what is al­most the un­of­fi­cial US na­tional ide­ol­ogy: the rugged in­di­vid­ual and his tri­umph. Cer­tainly the Bri­tish don’t do sports films any­where nearly as well as the Amer­i­cans. The ar­che­typal dra­matic arc of sports achieve­ment lends it­self to plenty of ban­ter and in­ci­den­tal hu­mour, the bet­ter to high­light the cen­tral, heroic drama. But it doesn’t so eas­ily lend it­self to rou­tine Bri­tish irony.

Char­i­ots of Fire and Bend It Like Beck­ham are al­most the only Bri­tish sports films I re­mem­ber re­ally en­joy­ing.

We Aus­tralians don’t do sports films all that well ei­ther. We do the bush, in all its va­ri­eties, pretty well, but not sports. In­di­ans on the other hand do sports films, es­pe­cially cricket films, bril­liantly. They also make su­perb films about hockey. And wed­dings, which in In­dia in­volve all the grandeur, colour, stag­ing, raz­zle daz­zle and ten­sion of the great­est sport­ing oc­ca­sions.

They also write the best nov­els about wed­dings. Con­sider Vikram Seth’s A Suit­able Boy. But if we go down that path we’ll have to con­sider the role of sport in lit­er­a­ture — I think that’s un­der­done by ev­ery­body, maybe be­cause sport fits much more nat­u­rally into cinema than it does in the novel. But I di­gress.

There are two very spe­cific prob­lems with sports films. One is that you have to present the fic­tion­alised ac­tion se­quences as com­pellingly as real sports does. This is ac­com­plished su­perbly in the lat­est Rocky box­ing film, Creed. In­vic­tus, on the other hand, about the vic­to­ri­ous South African World Cup rugby team, was so lame partly be­cause Matt Da­mon and his fel­low ac­tors could not pos­si­bly en­act rugby se­quences any­where near as ex­cit­ing as those pro­duced by pro­fes­sional play­ers. The film should have used footage of real rugby matches, what­ever the edit­ing and con­ti­nu­ity chal­lenges in­volved.

The other prob­lem is that so many in­tensely fol­lowed sports are so re­gional. You could not make an Aussie rules film and ex­pect a nat­u­ral au­di­ence of more than half of Aus­tralia. The same is true in re­verse for rugby league.

But it’s sur­pris­ing we don’t do more with cricket. Given all that dra­matic and heroic ma­te­rial, the di­verse and com­pelling char­ac­ters in­volved and the en­thralling com­plex­ity of the game, Amer­i­can film­mak­ers would hit it to the fence ev­ery time.

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