Robert Duvall, sportsman, sportsfan and veteran
Hollywood actor according to American
critic Leonard Maltkin one of the most gifted
to grace the screen- has been hooked on football
since the 1970 World Cup. After a thirty-year
gestation he has come up with his football opus;
A Shot At Glory.
It has been a prolonged labour with a great
deal of speculation attached.
After grabbing the attention of all of Scotland
for the making of the film, it premiered last
September at Toronto Film festival. Since then
nothing. And there were rumours that the film
could not find a distributor, but since then
it has been picked up by one of Britains
biggest; United International Pictures. It opens
this weekend, but can be seen only in Scotland.
The road leading to Duvalls Shot at Glory
has been slow and deliberate. On the way he
has managed to gain -and keep- the attention
of a whole nation.
First, the tremendous sense of interest at
the announcement that Duvall had chosen to make
a film about football. This was in the Braveheart
era, when Scotland had had a taste of the exposure
a major Hollywood star could bring to a small
country. People were listening.
Then, Duvall let it be known that he intended
to make film about Scottish football. There
is a passion, a national obsession for the game
in Scotland. Duvall now had a nation listening.
The finishing shot was undoubtedly Duvalls
choice of Ally McCoist as a star of the picture.
McCoists skills on the park had made him
a golden boy of the terraces and a second career
as a chirpy TV presenter has burnished his screen
image even brighter. The attention of the nation
was now absolute.
The World Cup ignited Duvalls passion
for football three decades ago, but it was a
family visit to their ancestral Highland homeland
in celebration of his parents 50th
wedding anniversary that ignited Duvalls
passion for Scotland. Like many other Virginia
tobacco farmers, the Duvall family ancestors
has émigré Scots in their pedigree.
The film attraction was nothing to do with
Braveheart, he insists, but he
did find the attractions of the country hard
to resist as the setting for a story; it "just
kind of developed."
"Something in my background and mind came
up with that
..nothing to do with Braveheart,
just something romantic about Scotland,"
Seven years ago he teamed up with Denis ONeill,
writer of the The River Wild to
develop a script that would key into the passions,
dreams, loyalties and bigotries of the Scottish
game. Duvall had done his research. A series
of Scottish visits allowed him to go to matches
and meet players, coaches and fans. Former Raith
Rovers manager John McVeigh made a big impression
on Duvall, letting him sit in on half-time team
talks and he was greatly taken with Jimmy Johnstone
of Celtics European Cup winning team,
going so far as to offer Johnstone a cameo role
as a hard drinker in the film.
"He wouldnt be in the movie, because
he didnt want to drink, but thats
all he does, so I dont know what he was
trying to prove," Duval says, perhaps having
aquired a taste of the mixed attitudes of many
Scots to drink.
"Ive met so many characters, but
he would probably go on top of the list,"
Duvall has become steeped in the traditions
of the Scottish game, both good and bad.
He knows all about Old Firm rivalry and the
religious influence on Scottish football and
also has a fine appreciation of the talents
of the heroes of the park. His Scottish Terrier
back home is named Wee Jinky after the legendary
red-headed winger. The veteran Hollywood star
soaked up documentaries on the management Scots
who are the legends of the game Jock
Stein, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly distilling
their essence for a challenging management role
he was to face himself.
Dismissive of most football films and sports
films in general, Duvall describes them as exploitation
and he is scathing of Oliver Stones Any
Given Sunday, "an abomination"
With Michael Corrente aboard as director and
co-producer, in pursuit of authenticity, the
pair recruited thousands of extras and staged
matches across Scotland, using a specialist
crew and up to ten cameras simultaneously. The
players were professional sportsmen rather than
actors who fancied themselves dribbling a ball.
According to many who have seen the film, McCoist
has proved as adept at delivering lines as he
is at delivering goals. One Toronto reviewer
was surprised to learn that McCoist was not
a seasoned actor and described his performance
as the best ever by a sportsman in a drama film.
Duvall was urged to consider the Scotland International
by several people, whose instinct was well-founded.
After just one meeting, Duvall knew he was right
for the role he had in mind. His appraisal is
succinct and to the point; "Olivier could
never kick a ball but McCoist is a very natural
The team taking a Shot At Glory is that of
Second Division Kilnockie, a small coastal town,
bearing a striking resemblance to Crail, who
reach the Scottish Cup final. Duvall plays the
role of deeply flawed team manager Gordon McLeod,
who has not spoken to his daughter since she
married the veteran star Jackie McQuillan, who
just happens to be a Roman Catholic.
The stars career is on the slide and
he is signed by Kilnockies American owner,
played by Michael Keaton, against McLeods
wishes. McQuillans marriage too is on
the slide, under the severe strain imposed by
drinking and womanising. He drives to town in
a sports car, whilst his old-school manager
bikes it wearing a cloth cap. His is a quiet
authority, amply demonstrated when McCleod takes
the team off to train on a farm, where Duvall
deftly airs on screen another of his passions,
the tango, skipping between markers with some
genuinely nimble footwork. Jock Stein would
have been proud.
A Shot At Glory is, unashamedly,
a film about football. It has genuine footage
of McCoist playing in Rangers games, four fictional
matches and every penalty of a shoot-out. The
problem seems to be that distributors are not
certain what to do with it.
Duvall is quietly hopeful of a wider distribution
for A Shot At Glory, encouraged by the reaction
of those who have seen it. Paul Gleason, former
American footballer who went on the acting roles
in The Breakfast Club and Die
Hard "reckons its the best
sports film ever made."
Duvall, a sportsman through and through, has
a huge affection for, and a quiet confidence
in, his product. "Im in love with
the film and I think it honours the sport."
Jock Stein would be pleased to hear that.