Sunday, February 25, 2024

Next Goal Wins (2023 film)


Based on the 2014 documentary film by Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, Next Goal Wins is the real-life story of Dutch-American soccer coach Thomas Rongen who is given an impossible task in turning the America Samoan national team from one of the worst teams in the world to become an elite team in their attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Directed by Taika Waititi and screenplay by Waititi and Iain Morris, the film is a dramatic take of this real-life story in which a troubled coach faces the prospect of being fired only to take on this impossible task to coach a team who were notorious for losing a World Cup qualifying game in 2001 to a score of 31-0. Starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Will Arnett, Kaitlyn Dever, Luke Hemsworth, Rhys Darby, and Elisabeth Moss. Next Goal Wins is a heartfelt and witty film from Taika Waititi.

Set in 2011, the film around the Dutch-American soccer coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) who reluctantly takes the job of coaching the worst team in the world in America Samoa for an upcoming qualifying match for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It is a film with a simple premise yet it is told in an offbeat fashion as it plays into a man at the bottom of his life as he has gained a notorious reputation for his angry outbursts in soccer games as he is forced to take this job or else become unemployed. The film’s screenplay by Taika Waititi and Iain Morris is largely straightforward though it opens with an America-Samoan priest (Taika Waititi) revealing about this story with some additional embellishments and dramatic liberties including a small tale about the infamous 2001 FIFA World Cup qualifying game between America Samoa and Australia in which the former lost to the latter in a score of 31-0.

The screenplay doesn’t just play into Rongen’s struggle to turn this team of misfits into a capable team but also with the America Samoan culture that is quite unique in terms of their devotion to faith as they would stop doing everything during a prayer bell as well as the fact that their upbeat despite the losses they take. Even as he learns that many of the players and staff that work for the national team have multiple jobs and don’t take things too seriously as it is a source of conflict for Rongen who takes the game seriously. Still, Rongen would find ways to connect with the locals in the team’s president Tavita (Michael Kightley) as well as a fa’afafine in Jaiyah Saelua (Kaimana) whom Rongen sees as a natural defender as well as making him/her the team captain. Saelua would also help him recruit players including Nicky Salapu (Uli Latukefu) who was the goalie of that infamous game from 2001. The script also plays into Rongen’s reluctance to open up as he’s been separated from his wife Gail (Elisabeth Moss) who was the person that suggested him for this job as a way to cope with issues he’s been trying to avoid.

Waititi’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of his compositions but also has elements of style in the way he portrays American Samoa as the film is shot largely in Honolulu, Hawaii. There are wide and medium shots in these locations including a mountain where a famous American Samoa site is held as Waititi makes the island a major location yet he keeps much of his film straightforward while also putting a few quirks to give the film a sense of flavor. Especially with its humor as it is offbeat in the way the locals present themselves but it never goes into parody where Waititi also uses video as a tour guide for Rongen to watch as well as why they don’t like Samoa. It’s among these little things that allows Waititi to play into Rongen’s own sense of confusion as he would eventually accept their customs while also having to think outside of the box in order coach them.

Waititi’s direction also has compositions that matches the same imagery from the 2014 documentary film of the same name while infusing it with some humor but also knows when to not put humor into something serious. Even as there’s scenes where Rongen is listening to phone messages from his daughter Nicole (Kaitlyn Dever) as a way to deal with his own emotions. The film’s climax is this qualifying game against Tonga as Waititi puts a lot into the game but also this element of drama as it relates to the many issues that Rongen has. Even as he still has this confusion about the America Samoan’s views on life and the world as well as how they play soccer even though there’s a lot riding against them. Yet, Waititi finds a way to showcase this idea of the good and the bad as well as how someone should take it no matter how hard life is. Overall, Waititi crafts a touching yet funny film about a troubled soccer coach going to American Samoa to turn their national team from the worst to a team of winners through just one goal.

Cinematographer Lachlan Milne does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting but also on low-key lighting to not give the film this vibrant look but rather something a little realistic but also colorful. Editors Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, Nicholas Monsour, and Nat Sanders do excellent work with the editing in creating some stylish montages as well as a scene late in the film with its usage of jump-cuts to play into something that is dramatic but also funny. Production designer Ra Vincent, along with supervising art director Peter Borck plus set decorators Katrin Chong and Taylor Jean, does amazing work with the look of the house that Rongen stays in during his tenure as well as the convenience store as well as the local restaurant that is run by Tavita with many of the players working there. Costume designer Miyako Bellizzi does fantastic work with the costumes as it is largely casual with some island-inspired shirts and such that play into the island flavor of the film.

Visual effects supervisor Jason Chen does nice work with the visual effects as it is largely set-dressing for some of the locations as well as in some of the video footage as it relates to footage of the past. Sound editors Phil Barrie and Ai-Ling Lee do terrific work with the sound work in the way a bell sounds from afar or up close that gets all of the natives to kneel and pray along with other natural sound effects as it adds to the atmosphere of the film. The film’s music by Michael Giacchino is wonderful for its mixture of electronic and orchestral flourishes with island-folk based music that plays into the humor and drama with a soundtrack that features some American Samoa-based folk music as well as music from Dolly Parton, Tears for Fears, and Sia.

The casting by Katie Doyle, Mary Vernieu, and Michelle Wade Byrd is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from Taika Waititi as the American-Samoan priest who is sort of the film’s narrator in the film’s opening scene, Kaitlyn Dever in a largely-voice role as Rongen’s daughter Nicole, Angus Sampson and Luke Hemsworth as a couple of Australian players/FIFA officials who are old friends of Rongen with the latter having played in that infamous qualifying game, Chris Alosio as a kid named Jonah who would be Rongen’s assistant during practices, Loretta Ables Sayre as Rambo’s mother who is also a local cop, Rhys Darby as a FIFA official who does some funny presentations for Rongen over his status, and Uli Latukefu as the goalie who played at the infamous 2001 qualifying game whom Rongen tries to convince to return as he’s still fit and able to play. Other notable roles in the film as players for the team include David Tu’itupou as a player known as Tall David, Hio Pelesasa as Samson, Semu Filipo as a local cop named Rambo with a fierce kick, Ioane Goodhue as Smiley, and Lehi Makisi Falepapalangi as Pisa.

Elisabeth Moss is fantastic as Rongen’s estranged wife Gail who also works for FIFA as she is the one to suggest to Rongen to go to American Samoa in the hope he can sort out his own issues as well as find a way to reconnect with him. Will Arnett is excellent as Alex Magnussen as a FIFA official and Gail’s current boyfriend who often spouts these hilarious metaphoric stories as he tries to help Rongen with his issues while also being a bit of a dick but in a fun way as Arnett proves to be the right choice as his role was meant for Armie Hammer until scandal broke out and the film and Arnett came in for re-shoots. David Fane is brilliant as Ace as a mild-mannered coach who doesn’t do confrontations as he proves to be a funny assistant coach for Rongen. Rachel House is amazing as Tavita’s wife Ruth who is often the voice of reason for Tavita while also doing a funny bit to get into Rongen’s head. Beulah Koale is awesome as Daru Taumua as Tavita and Ruth’s son who plays for the team but is skeptical about Rongen until he finds his worth for the team as he gets inspired by Rongen’s teachings.

Kaimana is incredible as Jaiyah Saelua as a fa’afafine player who doesn’t take him/herself seriously yet does find a way to connect with Rongen as well as become the team’s captain where he/she is revealed to be a great defensive player as well as someone not to mess with. Oscar Kightley is great as Tavita as the federation president for the national team as he is someone that constantly gets humiliated but also knows not to have high expectations as his humor is low-key yet effective while also displaying a view on life that is fascinating no matter how bad things can get. Finally, there’s Michael Fassbender in a phenomenal performance as Thomas Rongen as this once-revered soccer player/coach who has serious anger issues as he reluctantly takes this job to coach the worst team in the world where Fassbender showcases some humor as well as bring a lot of emotional weight to a man at the bottom of his life where it is one of Fassbender’s finest performances.

Next Goal Wins is a marvelous film from Taika Waititi that features a great leading performance from Michael Fassbender as well as tremendous supporting performances from Oscar Kightley and Kaimana. Along with its ensemble cast, colorful visuals, a fun music soundtrack, and a compelling real-life story of adversity and finding balance in both the good and bad of life. It is a film that isn’t just a fun sports movie but also a story of a man trying to turn the worst team in the world into a team of winners but also find himself in learning to take the good with the bad. In the end, Next Goal Wins is a remarkable film from Taika Waititi.

Related (Next Goal Wins (2014 film)) – The Auteurs #64: Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi Films: Two Cars, One Night - Eagle vs. Shark - Boy (2010 film) - What We Do in the Shadows - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok - Jojo Rabbit - Thor: Love & Thunder - (Klara and the Sun)

© thevoid99 2024


SJHoneywell said...

This hasn't been on my radar, but maybe it should be. Looks fun, honestly.

thevoid99 said...

@SJHoneywell-It's not a film that takes itself seriously which is a good thing but if you're familiar with Taika Waititi's work. You'd get an idea of what to expect as I enjoyed it. Plus, I'm a sucker for any film that is related to the beautiful game. As long as it's good.

ruth said...

I was excited to see this and Fassbender in the lead role again, but despite some fun moments, this wasn't as good/memorable as I expected from Waititi.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-I didn't have high expectations for it which is why I think it worked for me plus I'm a fan of films relating to the beautiful game and knowing what to expect from Taika. I knew it was going to take a while to realize that it was a Taika film as it would happen in its third act. Fassbender is great in this.