Many directors have tried to capture the essence of a game of football, and many have failed.
The remake of Mean Machine, featuring Vinnie Jones, was all about the star and nothing about football. The same went for Sean Bean in When Saturday Comes – he was seemingly 10 years too old for the part and simply never gave credence to the character. Even Sly Stallone in Escape to Victory seemed crowbarred in because of who he was, flopping as Captain Robert Hatch in a film that has since achieved cult status for the presence of top-class footballers rather than Stallone.
Not all football films that feature a big name have been bad, and there’s one you might not have even heard of, let alone seen. It boasts a bona fide Hollywood star, a star of Scotland’s Euro 96 team and a seven-time Oscar nominee who has shared a screen with everyone from Gregory Peck to Tom Cruise. This is the best football film you never saw, A Shot at Glory.
Robert Duvall is a behemoth of the silver screen, breaking through as Boo Radley in the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Playing such an important character at an early stage of his career acted as a springboard, and later roles in films such as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now further cemented his fame. Those films, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, have become so famous that merely by association, the actors have, too. The Ringer describes Apocalypse Now as a nihilistic hellscape classed as one of the greatest films ever made. Duvall is in A Shot at Glory.
Another huge star to turn their focus to a small Scottish football team was Michael Keaton. His fame rose significantly in the early eighties as he played some very recognisable characters. His role as the star of Beetlejuice, which Gala Spins explains was an early Tim Burton effort, catapulted Keaton to superstardom, and a reboot is expected soon. He also played Batman in the 1992 reboot, also directed by Burton and appeared in video games and digital media on the back of that. Prince’s official song for the film featured Keaton, as did the spin-off video games Batman on 8-bit machines. His legacy is still seen today, and he’s even been linked with a reprisal of the Batman role in the upcoming Flash film.
Who brought the football element home with these two megastars? None other than Ally McCoist, a pundit for Euro 2020 and a member of Scotland’s Euro 96 squad. McCoist plays the marquee signing with a troubled personal life, and he adds gravity to the tale of Kilnockie, a tiny Scottish club that Duvall wants to save. Keaton is the villain of the hour, eager to move them to Dublin for his own ends, and there’s even a soundtrack composed by Dire Straits legend Mark Knopfler.
There are cameos for many footballers of the day, including Didier Agathe, Eddie May, Derek Ferguson and Owen Coyle. They give realism to the football scenes, and whilst Duvall won’t win any Oscars for his Scottish accent, something likeable is woven into the script and the action. What is a shame is so few football fans have heard of it, and even fewer have seen it.
Powered by real footballers but driven by Hollywood stars, A Shot at Glory is a football film that has aged gracefully and as charming today as it ever was. It won’t have you crying by the credits, but you will feel better for watching it.