Sylvester Stallone is the gift that keeps on giving. Younger movie fans get the gift of discovering classic after classic as if each one was brand new. Older fans, who have the Rocky films memorized already, get the gift of quirky new projects and random appearances in things like the Marvel Universe. This review is more for the younger fans who may be aware that Stallone ended communism in Rocky IV but didn’t know he also helped end fascism by playing soccer in the movie Escape to Victory.
Headlined by the loveable Sir Michael Cane and directed by Hollywood legend John Huston, Victory was released to the masses in 1981. Since this film fell under the rare “War/Sport” genre, it made sense to cast Sylvester Stallone as he had recently played war hero John Rambo and boxing underdog Rocky Balboa.
In Victory, Stallone plays a World War II era prisoner-of-war named Captain Robert Hatch. He spends most days watching the cooler prisoners kick a soccer ball around before ending up as the team’s unlikely goalkeeper. These cooler prisoners were made up of actual soccer stars of the time such as Pelé, Bobby Moore, and Robin Turner.
For some strange reason in the film, a high-ranking Nazi officer played by Max von Sydow thinks it would be great for morale around the world to have these allied prisoners-of-war (who happen to be really really good at soccer) play an exhibition match against a German super team. Of course, the match is intended to be used as propaganda and perhaps a symbol of how Germany would crush the allies in war. Movie fans can probably guess that Stallone, Caine, and the rest of the allies put up a heck of a fight on the field. But a dilemma arises when the players have a chance to escape. This is when the movie gets especially enjoyable.
Victory is a pleasant ride from start to finish. The film presents many WW-II themes but with a lighter touch – something that’s perfect for a war movie about soccer! Additionally, the great chemistry of all cast members is evident from the opening few scenes. Stallone shines in a role that may have been written with him in mind. Pelé seems like a natural actor. The other professional footballers don’t try too hard (in a good way). And Michael Caine and Max von Sydow absolutely carry the movie. A younger Caine brings his spunky energy as the leader of the allies while von Sydow’s acting almost makes you feel bad for a Nazi.
While the subject matter and era are taken seriously, Victory feels like it could be the child of The Dirty Dozen and The Replacements. It’s not quite a war or sports movie and doesn’t necessarily try to inform the viewer of anything that’s not already known. But it’s a fun story you’ve probably never experienced before. Its ending is also one of the most underrated endings in sports movie history (no spoilers here except that Stallone is involved).
FSM Final Grade: B
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