Review: Nighy, Ward shine in Netflix’s soccer crowd-pleaser

This image released by Netflix shows Micheal Ward, foreground left, and Bill Nighy in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
This image released by Netflix shows Micheal Ward, foreground left, and Bill Nighy in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)

"The Beautiful Game," a new movie starring Bill Nighy and Michael Ward, is about a real international soccer tournament called the Homeless World Cup.

Don't go in expecting documentary realness or grit, however. This is a movie-movie tidily constructed to leave audiences feeling inspired and uplifted. Mind you, this isn't a bad thing -- verité authenticity has its place but so do well constructed, glossy fantasies that still evoke authentic emotion and get at some essential truths. "The Beautiful Game," directed by Thea Sharrock, is firmly the latter. Just managing expectations.

The first Homeless World Cup was held in 2003, and in the past two decades, nearly 70 countries and 1.2 million people have participated. And yet, I suspect, its existence might come as a surprise to many (even soccer fans ... excuse me, football fans). The foundation's goals are noble, raising awareness for homelessness in major world cities and giving players a sense of pride and community.

Colin Farrell, who narrated the 2008 documentary about the games ("Kicking It," currently streaming on Freevee) and has since become an ambassador for the foundation, is one of the main producers on the film. Screenwriter Frank Cotrell-Boyce also worked with the foundation and past participants to inspire the characters he'd end up writing. It may be a movie, but it has legitimacy in its bones.

If you have a "Ted Lasso" shaped hole in your heart (or, less dramatically, viewing schedule), or are still feeling burned from Taika Waititi's misfire "Next Goal Wins," this might just do the trick.

Is it a little glossy and sanitized with a jaunty score? Sure. But it also thoughtfully explores themes of redemption, invisibility, pride and sportsmanship without being preachy or condescending. It's PG-13 rating is a little puzzling -- this does seem on the tamer end of the scale and appropriate for most ages. And, not for nothing, Sharrock and her team do a good job of showing just how exciting soccer can be (which is not a feat many movies have accomplished).

"The Beautiful Game," which debuted Friday on Netflix, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for "some language, a suggestive reference, brief partial nudity and drug references." Running time: 125 minutes. Three stars out of four.

photo This image released by Netflix shows Micheal Ward, foreground left, and Bill Nighy in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows Bill Nighy in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows Micheal Ward, center, and Bill Nighy, left, in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows, from left, Sheyi Cole, Micheal Ward, Bill Nighy, Kit Young and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows, from left, Sheyi Cole, Kit Young, Callum Scott Howells, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Robin Nazari in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows Callum Scott Howells in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)
photo This image released by Netflix shows Callum Scott Howells in a scene from "The Beautiful Game." (Alfredo Falvo/Netflix via AP)

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