Sports movies are not my thing. For that matter, watching sports is not my thing. Playing, sure, but not watching. So I put this movie off, despite hearing many wonderful reviews of it. My mistake and my loss. I’m betting that the jumping scenes and vistas on a large screen would have enhanced the awe and tension that even came through on my smaller home theatre.
Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), as Eddie, is transformed from his previous roles. He contorts his entire physicality to look and move very much like the real man. If you ever thought Egerton was just a pretty face, this film puts that criticism to rest. Opposite him, Hugh Jackman (Pan) does a passable American fallen hero. He doesn’t have quite as much to work with as the Eddie character (and is utterly fictional), but he fills out his story in a satisfying way and he works well with Egerton.
There are few smaller characters worth calling out. Iris Berben, as his patron of sorts, and Edvin Endre (Vikings), as both idol and brother-in-arms, each add some nice flavor to the tale. Tim McInnerny (Spooks: The Greater Good), sadly was a bit too forced to work for me. But Christopher Walken (The Family Fang) turned in a quiet and effective performance that was packed with his trademark energy. His character haunts a good part of the story and, eventually, he makes a small appearance that is loaded with punch.
Director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith) directed the result of first-time writers Kelton and Macaulay with confidence and a real sense of the comedy embedded deeply in someone who is so focused on a goal. Especially true when that goal is as nebulous as “I’m going to be an Olympian” without even an event attached to the thought. Fletcher also employs the fonts, music, and music styles of the period to give it just a touch of ironic distance for this kind of 80s sports story. In some ways it carries the same kind of love for the era as the recent Sing Street, though with a very different focus and homage.
A very minor bit of digging will turn up how little this movie mirrors the specifics of Eddie’s real life, but as a presentation of this cultural legend and the sensibility that drove him, it works. You will laugh, cry, cheer, and hold your breath throughout this film even when you know you’re being manipulated (much like The Fundamentals of Caring). Eddie, and Egerton’s depiction of him, is something everyone can connect with: the fearlessness of childhood and the dreams it created. In Eddie’s case, he just never let them go. And in this movie’s case, it will fill you with possibility and joy.