Movie Review

I watched United Passions so you don’t have to

The Union have been playing some miserable games of soccer recently. The Galaxy match was utterly embarrassing, the Sounders match was fairly lifeless, and the Impact match was literally played underwater. It hasn’t been fun viewing.

To counteract this slop, I set out to watch the only thing that could be worse than watching the Union play three times in one week. I watched United Passions — and this is my tale of survival.

I entered the film with an open mind, believing that a record-low box-office gross in North America couldn’t necessarily be a measure of how good the movie is. Maybe, against all odds, the film would be a competently made, dramatically-tense history of one of the world’s most important organizations.

Nope. It was the worst movie I have ever seen. It was probably the worst movie I will ever see.

The script is terrible. The editing is terrible. The directing is terrible. The acting is terrible. The music is probably the best thing about the movie, and it is also terrible.

The early years of FIFA were apparently not interesting

I am now going to do my best to walk you through this film, which will be difficult. The film has no discernible plot, nor an animating idea other than “FIFA is awesome.” But I shall try.

The movie opens on a big dirt field in the middle of some imaginary city. It looks like the city was built by Coca-Cola executives for the purpose of creating commercials for Coca-Cola.

In the middle of the dirt field, a bunch of kids play soccer. They are uniformly amazing. Every one of these kids has Messi-level talent. Naturally, every adult in the area starts watching their game, despite the fact that they clearly have other stuff to do with their lives.

One of the kids — the only girl — plays goalie. We keep checking in on these kids, at random, during the movie, and the only through-line is that this girl is really bad at soccer. She cannot stop a shot to save her life. She is the Rais Mbolhi of little blonde children. More on this later.

The first scenes with actual dialogue in the movie feature a bunch of guys in the early 1900s trying to start a global soccer organization. At least, I think that’s what’s happening. All of the actors appear to be native French speakers, playing French characters, but they’re speaking English in such a way as to preclude anyone who speaks English from actually understanding them.

They sit around a large oak table in an appropriately dramatic room, like they’re writing the Declaration of Independence or something. The dialogue is riveting. I will paraphrase it here.

GUY 1: So, what should the first article of the charter of our organization say?

GUY 2: (deep, thoughtful pause) It should say: “Only the represented National Associations will be recognized.”

GUY 1: PERFECT! What should article two say?

And so it goes. Meanwhile, these guys are being made fun of by various Englishmen, who are treated less sympathetically in this film than your average movie treats child predators. Even Braveheart was more tolerant of English people than United Passions.

Anyway, I guess the resolution of this plot is that FIFA is founded or whatever. This is the worst part of the movie.

Founding the World Cup was apparently not interesting

A little bit later, Gerard Depardieu shows up. He’s playing FIFA president Jules Rimet, who apparently has God-like powers. At one point, he prays and, just like that, World War II ends. (Given the movie’s anti-English stance, it’s a minor surprise they don’t blame Churchill for starting the war.)

Rimet is organizing the first World Cup, taking place in Uruguay in 1930. I think. Again, it’s pretty tough to follow what is going on at any individual moment in this movie. The plot appears to be that Uruguay is willing to pay limitless sums of money to host the World Cup. They host the World Cup. Nothing goes wrong! (Remember, this movie is financed, in part, by Qatar.)

For no particular reason, Rimet is followed around everywhere he goes by his daughter. She looks a little bit like SNL’s Kate McKinnon, if you took away all McKinnon’s personality and talent and left behind a robotic, lifeless husk. This happens to all the actors, honestly — it’s like they all stepped into the uncanny valley.

Like the rest of this movie, the Rimet sequences are thoroughly unwatchable. He eventually dies, and we go to his funeral. This is the worst part of the movie.

The middle years of FIFA were apparently not interesting

As the protagonist of the movie is now dead, that means it’s time for a new protagonist! Enter the Brazilian Joao Havelange, destined to become the next president of FIFA after an Englishman makes fun of him. (That’s not a joke. That’s what actually happens in the movie.)

Because Havelange is Brazilian, he is played by Sam Neill, a New Zealand native born in Northern Ireland. Neill chooses to use an accent that varies from scene to scene between “American cowboy,” “Russian,” and “how an alien from outer space might talk.” It is unclear to me whether Neill has ever spoken to a person from Brazil.

Anyway, FIFA runs out of money or something under Havelange’s leadership, though the movie seems to think Havelange was a great leader. (Again, at no point is it ever clear what the hell is going on.)

That necessitates that FIFA find a guy who’s good at finding money. Take a wild guess who that is.

Sepp Blatter is literally introduced to the other members of FIFA by Havelange saying “he’s apparently good at finding money.” Not a trace of irony creeps into his space-alien voice. This is the worst part of the movie.

Sepp Blatter saving FIFA was apparently not interesting

Blatter is played by Tim Roth, who presumably took this role because he was still being held at gunpoint by Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction. I give the man credit, though. He’s the one part of this move that is moderately interesting, because he basically plays Blatter as a total slimeball. Everything from his line readings to his posture to his makeup suggests that Blatter is a miserable weasel. Of course, every other element of the film is based upon the notion that Sepp Blatter is, if not Jesus himself, an instrument of his divine will. So there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance is going on.

The “plot” of this aimless chunk of United Passions is that Sepp Blatter wanders around Europe and, using some sort of magic, convinces Coke and Adidas to sponsor FIFA. In one truly ridiculous scene, a Adidas representative shows Blatter the design of a soccer ball with such fanfare that clearly the audience is supposed to recognize that this is An Important Moment. It is exactly as riveting as it sounds.

Now that Blatter has saved FIFA, we have to get through the 1980s. This is covered via wildly ridiculous montage of Blatter sleeping on a bunch of different planes, shaking a bunch of different people’s hands, and inexplicably staring at exactly one coffin.

Blatter eventually becomes president of FIFA, and oh my god I cannot believe this movie is still going on, why did I decide to subject myself to this torture, a character just told Blatter that “this is as bad as it can get” which is pretty ironic, will all of you stupid “characters” just shut up already.

I take it all back. This is easily the worst part of the movie. Blatter survives a challenge to his presidency, and it looks like we’re finally wrapping all this garbage up. Wait — no, the director has used the magic of green-screen to make it look like Tim Roth is handing the World Cup trophy to Nelson Mandela! Wonderful.

I really cannot put into words how bad this movie is

In the last scene of the movie, we return to Child Mbolhi. She gets the ball. She looks around. Then, she dribbles through every single player on the pitch, including the players on her own team, and scores a goal. All of the random adults cheer. She is carried off the pitch by the rest of the kids. And, boom — the movie is over.

It is utterly unwatchable, and yet I have watched it. (Much like my experience with the Union these days.)

For a movie that claims to love football — about an organization that claims to love football — nothing will make you hate football more than watching this movie.

It is so, so, so bad. It is incompetently made. It is morally disgusting. It is far too mean to English people. It is aggressively boring.

It is very much not worth your time.

RATING: -1 out of 5 Golden Boots


  1. I feel like I should pay you money or buy you dinner for having watched that movie. I just sincerely feel like I owe you something. Haha

  2. I feel like we could make up a pretty good drinking game to get us through the movie…

  3. The comments on Neill’s accent had me laughing out loud and sharing with my wife- I will not watch it but am deeply gratified to have been edified by this review.

  4. Jonah Falcon says:

    Oh, so YOU’RE the one who spent $9 to watch it in Philly. You’re 1/100th the gross of the US opening weekend.

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