John Huston directed the film and it stars Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, and a veritable who’s who of real soccer legends, circa 1980. Among them are
England’s Bobby Moore, ’s Co Prins, and the greatest soccer player that ever lived – Pele. (The on-field plays were also choreographed by Pele.) Several of the players got to duplicate their most famous skills, including Pele’s signature bicycle kick. Holland
The film opens in a POW camp in
. A man is shot trying to escape and a couple of Swiss officials come to inspect the camp to ensure the prisoners are being treated according to the Geneva Convention. A German Major named Karl Von Steiner accompanies them. While in the camp he spots some prisoners kicking a soccer ball around. It comes to him. He juggles it with his foot, and then returns it to the prisoners. He catches the eye of POW Captain John Colby (Caine) and the two exchange some brief words. As it turns out, they had played against each other, Colby for Germany England and Steiner for , prior to the war. Germany
Steiner asks Colby about setting up a “friendly” where a team of POWs would play a match against soldiers from a nearby German military base. Colby sees an opportunity to improve the lot of many prisoners and he counters that the POWs have no athletic gear and are being fed subsistence rations – nowhere near enough to give the well-fed soldiers a match. Steiner promises to get Colby all of these things, and Colby agrees to the friendly.
While this has been going on, an American prisoner named Captain Robert Hatch (Stallone) has been forming an escape plan. He has found a hole in the routine of a couple of guards and he is going to exploit it. Unfortunately, before he can make his escape, these two guards are reassigned to ensure the security of the soccer team practices. He is mad, but manages to convince Colby to allow him on the team as a Trainer to see if the two guards are still lax here, too.
Colby starts getting some bad news. Steiner meets with him and tells him that this “friendly” has been taken out of his hands. The German high command sees an opportunity for a large propaganda event, so they have changed the match to be one involving German national all-stars, and the event will be held in occupied Paris. Steiner is an honorable man, so he tells Colby that he has already arranged to transfer in prisoners from any number of other camps. Steiner knows that these men are soccer stars themselves and if there is going to be any honor in beating the Allied team, it will be if there is even a remote chance of them winning. Colby sees yet another opportunity, and mentions a few players from
Eastern Europe that he would like. He knows that he can maybe save them from the labor camps/death camps.
Hatch does manage to make his escape and he gets to a safehouse. He is carrying a message to the French resistance about the upcoming match. Plans are made for a tunnel to be dug from the sewers into the visiting team’s locker room. There’s one big problem – in order for the prisoners to learn this Hatch is going to have to allow himself to be captured and sent back to the same camp. While very reluctant, he agrees.
When he returns, he signals that he has a message for them, but because he is placed in solitary confinement no one knows what it is. Colby arranges for Hatch to get out by lying that Hatch is going to be their goalkeeper because their current one broke his arm. Even more unfortunately for this man, it means both having to allow them to break his arm, and missing out on the planned escape in
. Colby is a little desperate because the Allied High Command has heard about him “collaborating” with the enemy, so unless he manages to show it was all a cover for an escape he will be court-martialed and shot when the war ends. Paris
Everyone gets to the stadium (one in
Hungary stood in for because they needed one that looked correct for the period). Steiner gives Colby more bad news. It turns out the German High Command has arranged for the referee to be very partial to the Germans during the match. Just as an aside, are there any more corrupt sport officials on the planet than soccer officials? Maybe boxing judges, but that’s about it. Paris
The Allied team gets the message that the escape will happen during halftime when all the players come back into the locker room. When the time comes, though, several of the players protest. They want to go back out and win the damn match. It has become that important to them. They feel that they will lose far more by running away and letting the Germans use it to show everyone they were so superior that the other team gave up rather than continue playing them. If one man leaves, though, they all have to leave. Hatch is once again torn because his entire existence has been focused on the idea of escaping and he is now being asked to give that up for a second time. And the first time he did it, the whole point was that it would allow all these men to escape and now they’re telling him they don’t want to?
The actual match itself features a number of great plays. It does not dominate the entire movie, but it is the largest part of the end of it. If you hate sports movies I don’t think there would be too much action for you to take. On the other hand, if you are looking for 15-20 minutes of setup, then a full 90 minute match, then you will be disappointed.
The movie itself is stirring in sections, especially the match. The arrival of the Eastern European players was moving. Comparisons to The Great Escape are natural, and it’s obvious that Victory was inspired by it. I’ve also read that Victory was inspired by true events during WWII, but I’ve heard multiple versions of what those events may have been. These versions are so different that it actually makes me think they are more urban legend than fact.
You may be wondering about the acting ability of the soccer players and/or the soccer abilities of the actors. While none will ever win an acting award, I felt the players acquitted themselves well enough on screen. In fact, I didn’t realize so many of them were players because I was not familiar with them at the time (other than Pele). Caine had, of course, played soccer some when he was younger so they were able to show some scenes with him. Stallone had never played the game, but by making him the goalie this removed any need to teach him ball handling skills. It also nicely dovetailed with the film where they made him a goalie because he was used to playing American football, where the hands are used all the time.
This will be the last of my “V” film reviews, so I just wanted to point you towards the picture at the top of this post. Note the upraised arms of Stallone and Caine forming, you guessed it, a “V” for victory. If you want to see a bit of an interesting departure for Stallone (after two Rockys, but before any Rambos), then check this film out. If you just want to see some great plays by great soccer players then you should also check this film out. I recommend people give it a try.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
DVD Instant Video
DVD Instant Video