The Team (2005)

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The Team (2005) Poster

A cinema verite documentary about the homeless soccer team from New York City who travel and compete at the 1st Annual Homeless Soccer World Cup in Graz, Austria in July 2003.


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22 December 2006 | bob the moo
Distracting but so heavy with missed potential that I wondered what the point had been
The year after the 2002 world cup, the inaugural Homeless World Cup takes place in Graz, Austria. In America two brothers (Ron and Jeff Grunberg) in New York who run a homeless shelter decide to put together the national team for the USA. From their shelter they start getting people together to practice and gradually form a squad to join the 4-a-side tournament. However can those living rough on the street cope with this taste of purpose and opportunity? Early in the film one of the organisers asks the viewers' question on our behalf - why do this rather than use the money for something more widely beneficial? His answer is some garble about him being sure that this is what Jesus was talking about. So if you are looking for value for money or a wider social reason in this world cup then you are in for a disappointment from the film but I suppose generally the event does work to raise the awareness of homelessness while also offering a handful of those involved a sight of a better life. How much of the benefit of the event comes across in the film is questionable because the film doesn't really try to get beyond the superficial action of the day to day preparation and playing of the tournament.

The film is interesting in this regard as the tribulations of organising the team are clear, followed by the excitement of the tournament and the, sadly, inevitable breakdown of at least one of the team. Although this all makes for an interesting documentary it is hard to see a wider reason for it existing. The filmmakers never seem to push anything and only seem to become animated when there is action or drama taking place. This is all well and good but what was the message I was meant to take away, what were the makers trying to deliver to me – was it just fighting and bonding and shouting and football or was there a social message here? There must have been some to justify the Tennyson quote at the end but I'm afraid it was lost on me – the fate of the characters only seemed to suggest that even hope and effort was wasted as nothing lasting would come of it – but surely this couldn't be the message of such a film? Well, whatever it is it doesn't really come across and what we are left with is the basic story of a group of homeless people coming together for a football tournament in Austria. They practice, they fight, they act out, they focus, they play, they win, they lose. Mostly it is engaging but it is hard to avoid seeing the missed potential. Those involved are interesting enough for reasons of being seeming stable and together (Rory) or obviously suffering from deep mental issues; however the film doesn't seem that interested in who they are or what their stories are – we are given little more than a few subtitles on their past and present. I appreciate that showing the tournament requires a lot of time but the human story around it was bound to be more interesting than the football (which is rapidly edited together and is nothing better than a visit to your local park would produce).

Overall then an interesting documentary for what it does but one that is full of missed potential to the point where I wondered what the actual point of it all was. The bickering, playing and so on makes for distraction but there is no substance unless you are actually interested in the results of the homeless cup (and even then the highlights are limited if that is what you've come for). This badly needed a mission statement from the makers or, if they had one, it badly needed makers who could do more with the story than just chase the infighting.

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Graz, Styria, Austria

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