Goal! Or Goal! The Dream Begins is a very good film that is filled with the kindness of strangers. It is about a young llegal immigrant to the United States from Mexico who makes his away to soccer (football) stardom with the Newcastle United team in England.
The film opens with the Munez family crossing the border under the cloak of night. They end up in Los Angeles. Ten years later, Santiago’s mother has deserted the family, but his father (the ever-dependable Latino actor Tony Plana), his little brother, and grandmother (Miriam Colon), live respectable, hard-working lives. Santiago works two jobs and plays soccer in whatever his free time he has.
One day Santiago is spotted by a former football (soccer) player and scout from the UK, Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane). He believes in Santiago from the start and gets the promise of an “audition” with the team if Santiago can get himself to Newcastle.
Despite his father’s best efforts and depressing view of his son’s future, Santiago’s grandmother finds a way to get Santiago back to Mexico so he can travel to England legitimately. He arrives, gets to play for Newcastle’s owner and makes a poor showing. When given the chance to play in the reserves for a month, he lies about his asthma, an untruth that comes back to haunt him. He spends a lot of time getting ground into England’s mud.
This is a sport’s film so you pretty much know how it’s going to turn out. Goal! is very timely, too, given the currentdebate about undocumented immigrants from Mexico going so strongly and the fact that this year’s World Cup competition is fast approaching. The whole issue of immigrant team members is hotly contested in Europe where soccer games (football) is a religion (ritualized by violence; I lived in the UK from 1993 – 1995 and the topic of “football violence” was on the agenda for almost every class from educational psychology to ideology and the media. Why the violence? No one has yet done the research that yields a definitive reason.)
There is no violence in this film at all, however. If anything, it's about peace in families and being a good person no matter where you are.
Who knows the greatness and genuine humanity that is latent and emerging in our undocumented immigrant population?
Kindness is not only one way in Goal! Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola), the bad-boy top paid player of the team, puts in a good word for Santiago and gets him re-instated on the reserve team. The team’s owner (Marcel Iures) is the wisdom character who can see through the faults of his players to their potential for greatness – which he does over and over for Harris. But it is not the owner who saves Harris; nor is it Harris who completely saves Santiago. Santiago does save Harris, however, through an unwise but sacrificial act of friendship (he refuses to name Harris in a public relations disaster for the team and risks his own future.)
A thread of Catholic spirituality runs lightly through the film and contributes to Santiago’s sense of identity and family. Despite his Mexican passport, he always says he is from Los Angeles. His love and respect for his grandmother feels authentic, and makes the audience want to celebrate Abuelitas everywhere. Santiago meets a nurse, Roz, and by the end they seem to have a future together. She, like Santiago, is not into the party scene.
Goal! - whetherlife’s goal, personal goals or the goal to live as a decent human being and contribute to family and society – is the multi-layered theme of this heartfelt film. Danny Cannon (CSI writer and director) directs the film well enough but I would have liked to see more field work during games. David Beckham makes a brief appearance and Stephen Dillane who scouts Santiago and becomes a father-figure to him, gives a performance that makes us want to care about him, as well as Santiago. Kuno Becker, by the way, is a fine actor – and very easy on the eyes.
For all the people out there who complain about Hollywood, get yourselves to this movie, and to Akeela and the Bee as well. There's so much hype over some movies and these smaller screen gems can sneak into DVD limbo before we get a chance to savor them - if we don't go to see them. Treat yourself. There are some good movies out there. Remember Whale Rider?
By the way, there are two sequels to Goal! in production.