For whatever reason, association football or soccer, never gained the same popularity in America as it did in almost every other part of the world. Pockets of immigrants may follow the teams from their motherland, but there isn’t the same kind of fervor to be found in any random sampling of average Americans. The only time soccer ever really becomes a deal big enough to unite the country is when a World Cup is involved and America is competing. That’s because Americans understand struggle and the desire to be considered the best no matter the odds. And that’s why We Must Go, despite being about a foreign country and its team, will resonate with American audiences on an intimate level that bridges all gaps.
We Must Go follows the Egyptian national football team on their journey to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Considering that Egypt hasn’t returned to the World Cup since they last played during the early 90’s, to compete in the global competition is a goal for not just the athletes, but for their die-hard fans as well. With a new coach from America, Bob Bradley, and political upheaval sweeping across the nation, this air of radical change just might be the inspiration the Egyptian team needs to qualify for one of the coveted slots in the World Cup. Using rich interviews with a variety of authorities on these events, like professional athletes, sports and political journalists, and peaceful and violent activists, the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of the Egyptian soccer team. But, as with any worthy goal, We Must Go proves once again that it’s not the destination that ultimately matters; it’s the journey.
Perhaps because it would be too easily discovered, We Must Go spoils its own ending immediately. Egypt doesn’t qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And considering the timing of this film’s release, Egypt’s absence is probably already common knowledge. For those who don’t closely follow association football, this reveal at the beginning of the film might be off-putting since it removes much of the reason to get to the end. Conversely, a movie about the Titanic can still be successful despite knowing what happens to the ship. So on one hand, it’s a smart decision to reveal the fate of the Egyptian team early, because it allows the audience to focus more on the events leading up to the end, which are interesting and engrossing in their own right. On the other hand, a good portion of the film is a prototypical sports story full of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and knowing that all of the effort to overcome these obstacles is for naught removes much of the tension and catharsis that sports stories offer.
The documentary aspect is top notch and the film is smartly planned and presented. The filmmakers did a great job in selecting their interview subjects, and they couldn’t have been better if they had been fictional. Bob Bradley has the kind of charisma every player wants in a coach, which is a blend of warm father figure and a steely-eyed general. The humble and reserved players are nicely juxtaposed with more flamboyant journalists, who are never at a loss for words – even if those words are credible threats for losing an important game. Finally, considering that the film covers a wide breadth of information and recent history, the amount of coverage the cameras get is also impressive.
Regrettably, at times, especially in the middle of the film, We Must Go feels like it’s lost its way, but this is only because the filmmakers don’t manage expectations adequately. Many audiences are going to assume that the film is mostly a sports story with some context sprinkled in to give the overall subject some humanity. The reality is that the film spends a lot of its runtime covering the sweeping changes in the government that led to violent clashes within the populace. Some of these events had a direct impact on the Egyptian team, like when players describe holding wounded people in their arms as those victims passed away. But since none of the players blame the national turmoil for their performance on the pitch, it’s difficult to understand what point the film is making other than a political one.
We Must Go is most successful when it returns to its sports story in the last third of the film. Utilizing standard conventions, like highlights and dramatic close-ups on anguished players’ faces, the matches are every bit as exciting as watching a live competition if not more so. Once again, however, knowing the final outcome does take away a bit of the fun, but seeing what players and onlookers have to say about the results helps make up for the lack of suspense. As such, We Must Go makes for a solid film for both longtime American fans of soccer and newcomers who want to understand the kind of endurance these players and their fans must maintain off the pitch as well.