Connect with us

Movie Reviews

Next Goal Wins ★★★



Directed: Taika Waititi

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Oscar Kightley, Rhys Darby, Will Arnett, Rachel House

Released: 26th December 2023

Taika Waititi has been seemingly everywhere the past few years since his Hollywood breakout directing Thor Ragnarök. It Is not that long ago that he was making small independent New Zealand-based films like Boy, What We Do In The Shadows or The Hunt For The Wilderpeople. His latest Next Goal Wins is a real-life story set in the Pacific island of American Samoa, which hired the erratic Dutch/American coach Thomas Rongen to attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The team was regarded as one of the worst in FIFA history, having suffered a 31-0 defeat to Australia the decade before. The story has been told earlier in the acclaimed documentary of the same name, but the slightly absurdist and fish-out-of-water story lends itself well to a feature retelling.

Initial photography began in November 2019, wrapping up in early 2020. Due to the pandemic, strike and reshoots with Will Arnett replacing Armie Hammer, it has been stuck in development hell, so it feels like a minor miracle it has finally seen the light of day. One wonders if this would have received a better reception a few years ago and with more promotion, but the end product is no disaster.

Michael Fassbender is always a welcome presence and, alongside The Killer, proves his range and leading man capabilities. He brings plenty of physical comedy and a perpetual sense of frustration, a pan waiting to reach boiling point. The cast playing the American Samoan team brings a fun underdog sense to proceedings that recalls the likes of Eddie The Eagle. We get a sense of the island community and how close-knit its people are. Never taking itself too seriously, this is a fun time at the movies and shows Waititi is at his best when telling stories like this, even if it isn’t his absolute best.

The reshoots are obvious with scenes involving Elisabeth Moss and Fassbender, some of which feel disjointed or lack a cohesive throughline. Some plot developments later on come at the audience quite unexpectedly and perhaps could have been telegraphed better. There is a lack of development for the US Soccer executives who are played as antagonists; we don’t get a clear sense of why they dislike Thomas, and fleshing out this aspect may have elevated things.

Next Goal Wins is far from the disaster some have made it out to be and is an entertaining, smaller-scale film from Taika Waititi with an impressive, committed lead performance from Michael Fassbender. Not all its laughs quite land with some sudden tonal shifts in its third act, but this diverting, crowd-pleasing 100 minutes will surely put a smile on faces over the holiday period.

Just For You