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A snapshot from ‘The Beautiful Game’

Despite being naturally skilled in football, Vinny (Micheal Ward) initially turns away Mal’s (Bill Nighy) invitation to participate in the Homeless World Cup in Rome. Vinny denies being homeless despite living in his vehicle. The Homeless World Cup is more than just an event; it’s a yearly effort dedicated to tackling homelessness through the universal language of football.

Mal, who once scouted for West Ham and now manages England’s team for homeless players, doesn’t give up on Vinny, who reluctantly decides to join. Teammates including Cal (Kit Young), Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Jason (Sheyi Cole), Kevin (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), and Aldar (Robin Nazari) try to connect with Vinny, who struggles with issues beyond the pitch. The story unfolds revealing not only Vinny’s past but also the compelling backgrounds of other players from different nations.

Other notable characters include Rosita (Cristina Rodlo), a first-rate forward for the U.S., who sees the tournament as a lifeline to remain in the country, and the Japanese team, led by Mika (Aoi Okuyama), who find in the World Cup a way to reclaim their dignity and purpose.

The Beautiful Game (English)

Director: Thea Sharrock

Cast: Bill Nighy, Micheal Ward, Valeria Golino, Susan Wokoma, Callum Scott Howells, Kit Young, Sheyi Cole, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Robin Nazari, Aoi Okuyama, Cristina Rodlo

Run-time: 125 minutes

Storyline: A team of British footballers find hope and camaraderie as they compete in the Homeless World Cup

Sister Protasia (Susan Wokoma), despite an unconvincing accent, dynamically navigates her South African team to the cup. Gabriella (Valeria Golino), the president of the Homeless World Cup, playfully challenges Mal about his team’s prospects.

Although the film includes actors who mirror the experiences of real-life participants of past tournaments, ‘The Beautiful Game’ is a dramatized narrative. The games are portrayed with energy, and the audience becomes invested in Mal’s squad. While the representation of homelessness may not completely align with reality, the film floats on the tide of its earnest aim and the exceptional portrayal by Nighy as Mal.

While Vinny might be hard to embrace due to his challenging demeanor (a nod to Ward’s embodiment of the complex character), his story and that of others leave us seeking more answers. Mal’s motivations are partially disclosed, but not in full. The tangled network of side stories, including a tender one featuring an apology delivered through an organic fish present, causes the film to seem unfocused at times. Possibly, a more narrow narrative thread by the writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce could have led to a more cohesive film. However, these critiques are overlooked in light of the film’s underlying spirit of “the beautiful game”, a phrase made famous by the iconic soccer player Pele.

The Beautiful Game is available for streaming on Netflix.

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