Goal! The Dream Begins (2006)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Sports Drama  |   Release Date - May 12, 2006 (USA)  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Like the sport of soccer itself, Goal! The Dream Begins has something in store for a diverse blend of audiences -- few of them American, as evidenced by its weak box-office performance in the U.S. The story starts in Los Angeles, following a soccer prodigy who's also an illegal Mexican immigrant, then quickly transplants young Santiago (Kuno Becker) to rainy Northern England, where he tries out for the English Premier League. It's no surprise international audiences loved it -- enough to inspire two sequels -- but the quality filmmaking alone should have gained it more attention stateside. Danny Cannon's direction and Michael Barrett's camerawork are sleek without being showy, and the whole production feels sturdy and visually interesting. Newcastle Upon Tyne, where much of the action takes place, is a beautiful backdrop through Barrett's lens -- its crashing coastal waves looking grandiose, its cityscapes both modern and quaint, its fields lushly green. The plot, however, is a bit more standard. For our protagonist, there are cultural differences and medical issues to overcome, the trappings of fame to avoid, and a strict father to impress. To their credit, the filmmakers do include a few surprises within the reliable structure, as well as a few nice details that make Goal! better than your average predictable sports movie. (The biggest complaint about the narrative, in fact, is that Santiago goes through a comical number of near cuttings and apparent ends of the road.) One of Goal!'s biggest assets is its supporting cast. Alessandro Nivola was born to play a celebrity soccer star modeled after David Beckham (who makes a cameo), Anna Friel exudes plucky sweetness as the lass who falls for Santiago, and Stephen Dillane, who discovers Santiago and champions him to the Newcastle coach, is highly affable. Goal! has modest goals, but it achieves them.