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Derrick Dunn

Next Goal Wins is a by the number sports film and that’s just fine

Director Taika Waititi ventures away from the MCU for an inspirational sports film for his latest film, Next Goal Wins, from Searchlight Pictures. Waititi pens the film with Iain Morris, which follows the down-on-his-luck coach, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, and his journey with the underdog soccer team as they strive to win their next game and restore their lost glory.

The movie begins with archived footage of the infamous American Samoa soccer team and their brutal 31-0 loss in FIFA 2001. We are then introduced to Tavita (Oscar Kightley), the team’s owner; Ace (David Fane), the current coach; and several players, including Daru (Beulah Koale), Tavita’s son. Tavita informs Ace that he has hired Thomas Rongen (Fassbender), a maverick coach, to take over, which serves as Rongen’s introduction to the audience.

At the suggestion of his wife, Gail (Elisabeth Moss), and one of his bosses, Alex (Will Arnett), Thomas accepts the job offer and reluctantly travels to the island. Upon arrival, Thomas meets his new team, but he quickly clashes with Jaiyah (Kaimana), a skilled defender who is also transgender. However, Jaiyah ultimately helps Thomas recruit players with unique talents, including goalkeeper Nicky Salapu (Uli Latukefu), who struggles with self-confidence.

Next Goal Wins runs a brisk one hundred minutes, and Waititi follows the usual templates of sports film. Fassbender gives Rongen the usual acting theatrics you find in this genre. He has a drinking problem and lost his family due to his arrogance, but eventually, as he trains the team, they develop an unwavering belief in themselves and gradually begin to gel and build genuine camaraderie.

In the story’s third act, there is a big game showdown where the town comes together to support their team, who have found new motivation and energy. The local community members, including devoted fans, passionate parents, and even their arrogant rivals, whom they must defeat to advance to the next round, all come together to cheer on the team.

For the most part, Waitii only gives depth to the characters portrayed by Fassbender, Kaimana, and Latukefu. He took this route because he wanted to focus on the Samoan culture of staying positive through adversity, as every character in the film serves as comic relief, including Waititi, who pops in for an extended cameo as the island priest. As for the folks who aren’t Samoan, they fall into typical archetypes., Will Arnett delivers two funny monologues about dogs, but the usually reliable Moss is here for a check and doesn’t have much to do.

Despite the weak arcs for the supporting character, Taika Waititi set out to make an inspiring sports film that commercial audiences will enjoy as the film celebrates the power of unity, the triumph of the human spirit, and the realization that sometimes the most significant victories are not just on the field but within us.

Final Grade: B-

Next Goal Wins opens in theaters on Friday, November 17th.

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Next Goal Wins is a by the number sports film and that’s just fine