Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Late British soccer manager Brian Clough had Rick Pitino’s haircut, Roy Williams’ cockiness and a snubbed nose that made him look like a striker on Whoville’s pitch.
Michael Sheen has played vampires and werewolves, but works up his most insatiable bloodlust as Clough in Tom Hooper’s The Damned United — a sharply observed, superbly acted drama that realizes sports can form as nasty a symbiotic relationship with a nation’s people as its politics.
Written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen), Damned flip-flops from 1968 to 1974 and points between, tracking Clough’s ascendency and a freefall once he took over Leeds United. That dynasty’s team refused to follow a man who’d bashed them and their longtime leader, Don Revie (Colm Meaney), who tersely dismissed Clough early on and sparked a blindingly obsessive infuriation.
Often a support beam for others’ award-winning performances, Sheen represents the very structure of 2009’s Damned. To Clough, soccer should be immediate and hungry, and his arrogantly ambitious fire entertains; “I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in the country, but I’m in the top one,” he quips on TV.
But Sheen adapts to convey the foreignness of contrition once his blazes consume everything (including a friendship with longtime tactician Peter Taylor, gently played by Timothy Spall).
It’s not for nothing that a Frank Sinatra painting adorns Clough’s wall. He said things he truly felt and not the words of one who knelt. Damned is the fascinating record that shows Clough took his blows and did it his way.