One Night in Turin (2010)

One Night in Turin

Directed by James Erskine, UK, 2010

By D.G. McCabe

We tend to remember only winners in sports.  We increasingly define athletes not on their overall contributions or skill, but by how many championships they’ve won.  Case in point – how often the media criticizes Peyton Manning for not winning more than one Super Bowl despite his endless assault on the record books. But there are times, every once in a while, where the losing team outshines the winning team.  Enter the 1990 World Cup.

As Gary Oldman’s opening narration of “One Night in Turin” explains, England was in rough shape in 1990.  The state of English football was in even worse shape.  A plague of violent fandom conjured its own word – hooliganism.  The 1985 Heysel Disaster had gotten English club teams thrown out of European competition, while the 1985 Bradford Disaster and the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster had destroyed the game’s reputation domestically.

A far less tragic problem was the state of the English National Team.  After losing in the quarterfinal of the 1986 World Cup, partly as a result of the infamous “hand of God” goal, the English team spectacularly crashed out of the 1988 UEFA Championship.  By time we actually get to the 1990 World Cup in “One Night in Turin,” we’re left with the impression that this is a hopeless team playing for a cynical, angry nation.  That is until the team gets to the semifinal of the tournament and narrowly loses to Germany.

As a story, “One Night in Turin” is fantastic.  As a documentary, I’m not so sure.  The first half does a great job setting the stage for the magical, unlikely run of the English team.  Oldman’s narration is a bit over the top at times and there is no mention of Hillsborough or Bradford, but otherwise it’s a strong setup for what the English team was facing in 1990.

When you get to the actual soccer part of the documentary, it gets a bit rote.  This is where interviews with the actual players could have helped the movie along.  While Oldman’s narration of the matches is solid, we don’t get a good sense, as an audience, of what it was like to experience the run.  Instead, we just get Gary Oldman talking over some old soccer highlights.

Another area where One Night in Turin falls short, and in my opinion it’s biggest missed opportunity, is in that it fails to draw a contrast between the run of the English team and the what is widely considered to be the worst tournament of the modern era.  The 1990 tournament was low scoring, defensive, and filled with red cards.  Unless you’re German (who won their 3rd title), the only redeeming aspect of the tournament was the run of the English team.

“One Night in Turin” might be worth some of your time if you’re looking for a good World Cup documentary this weekend in preparation for tomorrow’s final.  However, it’s structured in such a way that non-soccer fans need not apply.

You might like One Night in Turin if: You’re interested in English football or you can enjoy a soccer documentary that doesn’t really focus enough on the actual soccer.

You might not like One Night in Turin if: You only marginally care about soccer or you only like sports documentaries that delve into the thoughts and feelings of the men and women who participated.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe