In The Hands Of The Gods

Movie Review by Neil Sadler

Starring: Paul Wood, Sami Hall Bassam, Jeremy Lynch, Danny Robinson
Directors: Gabe Turner, Benjamin Turner

This is a documentary about football (or soccer as our American readers know it) but not really. This is a film about fandom, following your dream and finding yourself. The other F is really just a means to an end.

Five men from differing backgrounds share a passion for freestyle football – a combination of ball tricks and acrobatics. They come up with a plan to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina and meet their idol, Diego Maradona, funding this dream by performing their skills on the streets.

We learn a few things about their life before the trip – but once they manage to blag a flight to New York it soon becomes obvious that:
1. They haven’t really thought through how they are going to get to Argentina
2. They have very different reasons for wanting to get there
3. Their passion for the game and for Maradona is quite astounding.

This is a journey movie and the filmmakers are there to observe. Initially I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend nearly 2 hours in these five men’s company. They don’t even seem particularly keen on spending time with one another but as the film progresses we start to see more qualities in each of them.

Woody is probably the most passionate of the four about Maradona. He is also the most natural leader and the most instantly likeable. Sami is the bad boy, seeking redemption. Danny is the clown, Mikey the pampered mother’s boy and Jeremy the quiet thoughtful one. But there is more to these people than these simple labels and for the most part, the film allows us to explore these layers. That the film spends longer with Sami and gives us much more of his story works in its favour as it is he who has the most to gain – and has the richest back story. The most touching scenes are those of him trying to rebuild a relationship with his mother who had saved him as a child in the Somalian civil war. But even when we focus on the others we learn, quite subtly, new layers of all five men. Even when they annoy and confound, they always intrigue.

It is to the filmmakers credit that this story rarely loses your attention. There are moments in the US when it loses it focus and it is obvious where editing has happened. There are times too, when it all feels a little staged – a little too structured and scripted – but when the characters shine through, which they do for a majority of the film, this is a fantastic bit of storytelling. Rarely showy in its visuals – and subtle in its use of music – it lets the journey and characters take centre stage.

Don’t be put off if you aren’t a fan of football or indeed sports films in general. This is a human story about following your dream. Even if you don’t understand the passion these men have for a footballer, you will admire their determination.

5 out of 6 stars