Deflated balls

In the Hands of the Gods would have scored highly in the feelgood league if the directors hadn’t missed some open goals


In the Hands of the Gods
Benjamin and Gabe Turner, UK
2007, Fulwell 73/Green Wolf
106 minutes, English

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

LATAMROB rating: **

AS ANY coach will tell you, soccer is about team work and the moment one or two flashy individuals start shuffling the ball against the direction of play, it’s only a matter of time before someone puts it in his own net.

This may be the lesson of Benjamin and Gabe Turner’s original film about a group of young British freestyle footballers who head for Argentina to meet their hero, Diego Maradona. In that sense, it may be a perfect metaphor for the ills of the British game.

Certainly, the point at which the boys abandon all pretension of co-operating with each other and draw lots to see who gets to score seems to fit perfectly the I’m-alright-Jack culture of a sport spoiled by vanity and greed.

But if the UK critics and blogging traffic are anything to go by, there was also scepticism among many punters that the makers of what was billed as a coming-of-age fly-on-the-wall documentary – unlike Maradona and the ball – kept their hands off the lads’ progress on the pitch and the eventual outcome. The Daily Telegraph said “many scenes resemble staged reality TV moments” and Time Out referred to the “deeply implausible twists”.

Lad-mag culture

Most of the reviewers loved this tale, seduced by the plucky British lad-mag culture of going for it and the happy coincidence of the quintet’s diversity: a quiet Christian, a Scouse scally, a failed footballer, a pampered teenager and a Somali asylum seeker. In the Hands of the Gods tells the story of the youths as they head from London to Buenos Aires via the USA, Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil, using only their wits – and their ball-dribbling skills – to get by. The freestylers hustle from New York City down to Mexico City then Acapulco to earn money for food, accommodation and travel, often sleeping rough. In the process, they examine their own lives and, unspokenly, reflect on such virtues as co-operation, sharing and tolerance. Until they reach Mexico, that is.

There, the parting of ways as two head off for Argentina and the later disagreements and reunions give the viewer plenty of reasons to reflect upon the youths’ behaviour – in particular the Scouse opportunist’s subsequent betrayal of his erstwhile mates and the Somalian parolee’s suffocating self-pity – and await their redemption.

Original, entertaining and in many ways enlightening, In the Hands of the Gods is an emotional roller-coaster, but one that misses some significant open goals.

The film-makers made very little of Maradona – reduced to a cameo role at the end when he hurriedly embraces the boys and generously signs their T-shirts as he is rushing out of his house for the airport. Nor did they explore the boys’ passion for football, missing a classic opportunity to examine what the game itself means to this diverse generation of British youth and how – despite their evident differences – it brings them together.

Finally – and most unforgiveably – they failed to explore the meaning of South American football for youth everywhere. Entire generations of kick-abouts have grown up dazzled by Latin American stars, from Pele to Maradona. That “the beautiful game” they have developed can offer such hope on the dreary housing estates of Britain is a story that really deserves to be told.

Eugene Carey is a freelance journalist