2007-04-14 12:07
What it’s about:

It is 1976 and it’s tough to be a working-class guy in South Philadelphia. The economy is in the toilet - half the men are out of work, the other half are on strike. Even the local football team, the once great Eagles, can’t seem to win a game. All the guys have to keep them sane is their weekly amateur football game, and no one enjoys this game more than their star player Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg). After all, his wife just left him, right after he lost his day job. When a new coach (Greg Kinnear) joins the Eagles and declares open tryouts, Vince reluctantly goes along. In any case, what are the chances that a 30-year-old with one year of high school football would ever make it into the NFL? So begins one of the most incredible true stories in the history of the game.

What we thought of it:

Sports movies are easy. All the tension and disappointment of life wrapped up in a game and solved on the field in one glorious moment. Underdogs and heroes, villains and victors – all contained in a neat package with rules and sense and a score. It’s no wonder they keep making them, or that we keep watching them. What is surprising is that, after hundreds of these films, anyone can make a sports story that doesn’t seem like a syrup covered, third-hand copy of a better picture.

But, a lot like its loveable lug of a main character, Invincible manages the seemingly impossible. It takes what should be a cliché-riddled exercise in tedium and makes it into a story with humour and heart and joy.

What makes the difference? Well, it certainly isn’t the plot. You couldn’t write a more corny story if you tried – a 30-year-old underdog from the hard-luck side of town in team of underdogs lead by a rookie coach – it’s almost cartoonish. And it’s not like the movie steers clear of conventions. There are inspirational speeches and training montages a plenty, and even a slo-mo sequence where Vince returns to the neighbourhood to play with his buddies on a muddy evening.

So what is it then? It’s the marvellous Mark Wahlberg for one thing. In his hands Vince Papale is just the kind of brawny, taciturn hero we can get behind – an ordinary guy who doesn’t show how much he’s hurting, except around the eyes. Mixing quiet sincerity with understated passion, Wahlberg makes the character unexpectedly three-dimensional and irresistibly likeable.

He gets some help from a decent enough supporting cast, with the dependable Greg Kinnear in butch mode as the coach. Elizabeth Banks (who freaked us out in The 40-year-old Virgin) is thrown in as the vivacious love interest, but doesn’t do much more than provide light comic relief.

Invincible is also nicely put together, with strong production values and thoughtfully framed shots. The action sequences are particularly good – keeping you in the middle of the action with a minimum of visual fuss. Only the lighting is questionable - a sentimental sepia tone that fumbles to recall “them good ‘ole days”. But, like Kinnear’s horrendous suits and Wahlberg’s dopey hairdo, it just works.

In the end though it’s the little touches that keep the film from turning to mush. Just as Vince is thinking of quitting, he drives through his neighbourhood and sees a kid with 88 – Vince’s own number - taped to his green jersey. There’s a real sense of pride and place and history at play here. South Philly isn’t just a backdrop in this film – it’s a real place with real people. And if that seems corny it’s because, hey, life is pretty corny most of the time, even if we don’t always want to admit it.

- Alistair Fairweather
Invincible should be just another cliched underdog story about football. But, thanks largely to the charm of Mark Wahlberg, it manages to both inspire and amuse.

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