Title: Shooting For Socrates
Director: James Erskine
Major Players: John Hannah, Conleth Hill, Richard Dormer
Out Of Five: 2
Sometimes a film comes along with its heart so clearly throbbing on its sleeve that you feel guilty saying anything less than favourable about it. But it goes with the job. So I’d better get on with it.
It’s the 1986 World Cup and, miraculously, the Northern Ireland team has made it through to the final stages. But the draw isn’t on their side, as their group comprises Algeria, Spain and, toughest of all, Brazil. But the very fact that they’ve made it unites the province in the belief that they can at least do well. That especially applies to one football mad ten year old, Tommy (Art Parkinson) whose father uses the sport to try and keep protect him from the violence going on all around them.
And we’re left in no doubt as to the context, and why the team getting to the finals is such a beacon of light. TV news footage of the troubles at the time paints the picture, mainly on 1980s remote control-less tellies. Belfast looks dingy and dull compared to all the sunshine and colour of Mexico, where the team trains, and Brazil itself. Even the Brazilian team strip, yellow and bright green, is sunshine by comparison. There’s none of that in Belfast.
The story is the obvious David and Goliath one, underlined by Samson and Goliath, the two landmark shipbuilding gantry cranes in Belfast. Tommy’s dad even works on one of them and takes him to the top on his 10th birthday, the day of the match – just to emphasise the point.
Which gives you an indication of the film’s biggest problem. It’s heavy handed to the point of clunky and hampered by its decision to be a family movie and the resultant PG certificate. The fact that nobody utters anything close to a profanity is just totally unrealistic, and at odds with the look of the film.
As well as giving a creditable re-creation of the mid-80s in Northern Ireland, the film is shot in the style of somebody’s home movies from the time, all grainy film and harsh colours. It sits comfortably alongside the actual footage from the World Cup matches, where the colour on the TV is so rudimentary by today’s standards that the entire Northern Ireland team seems to be redheads. Most of them, in reality, have dark hair.
The other problem is that it has just too many characters and too many settings. It’s a bit like your granny telling you a story: all the smallest details are given great importance and nothing, but nothing, can be left out. So we’re introduced to all the footballers, but with such a scattergun approach that none of the stories are properly explored and there’s no chance to get to know the characters. Plus, all the jumping around from location to location in the first half starts soon becomes tedious.
This all results in an uneven film – well intentioned, certainly, but one that’s unintentionally in tune with the performance of the Northern Ireland football team. Trying their best but just not scoring.
Shooting For Socrates is currently on limited release.