Review: Will (2011)

Directed by: Ellen Perry | 98 minutes | drama, family, sports | Actors: Damian Lewis, Bob Hoskins, Rebekah Staton, Kieran Wallbanks, Perry Eggleton, Malcolm Storry, Alice Krige, Brandon Robinson, Jane March, Karen Crean, Kristian Kiehling, Kenny Dalglish, Neil Maskell, Clive Tyldesley, Branko Tomovic, Canan Erguder, Finlay Wright-Stevens

“Will” is the story of 11-year-old Will (Perry Eggleton), who was left in an orphanage run by nuns by his father Gareth (Damian Lewis) after his mother’s death. Three years later, Gareth returns to make up for lost time. Will is a great Liverpool supporter and knows how to unerringly retrieve countless facts from his memory. His father promises to take him to the Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005. Although Liverpool will only be in the semi-finals then, they have every confidence that their club will reach the final and win.

They earn money for their trip by using Will’s predictive dream about the outcome of the semi-final as a bet with pub owner Davey (Bob Hoskins). It will be no secret that Gareth also dies (after all, the DVD cover mentions it) and it is Davey as an old friend of Gareth who comes to tell the bad news to Mother Superior Carmel (Alice Krige). Will’s dream seems to be in jeopardy, but his school friends want to help him get to Istanbul. Clever Simon (Kieran Wallbanks) and Chelsea supporter Richard (Brandon Robinson) devise a comprehensive plan and help Will on his way.

Obviously, all kinds of complications and obstacles arise along the way, but they are also bypassed or overcome with astonishing ease, so that Will can only be present at that final. Along the way, he receives help from well-meaning people in the most unlikely – and unrealistic – way. Chief among them is Alek Zukic (Kristian Kiehling), once a promising Bosnian football player, now a courier in Paris. Meanwhile, Will’s journey has become world famous and he makes newspapers and television newsreels. In that final, Liverpool will play against AC Milan (who won against PSV in the semi-final) and Will is running out of time to make it to the match on time.

You sometimes read about children who make long-distance air travel unaccompanied, so it may be possible, but that an eleven-year-old boy can travel right across the European Union via Bosnia to Turkey with an adult foreigner, without being hindered , is very fairytale like. The story is steeped in that quintessential English sentimentality around football and club love, but takes a weird, serious and disturbing turn with Alek’s secret to the Balkan wars of the 90s. It undermines the feel-good quality of the film, which also before that is already quite unbalanced in tone. It’s all well-intentioned and clearly aimed to keep the viewer sobbing with Will and his adventures, but the film misses the mark in that regard (just to use a pun).

Director Ellen Perry only made documentaries for this and that style is occasionally visible in the film. It’s a shame that the story is so flat, so the actors are nothing more than pawns to put Will back on the right track towards his ultimate dream. For a newcomer, Eggleton does not even fare that badly, although his portrayal of the titular Will is sometimes just as bumpy as the plot. Apart from Lewis and Hoskins as familiar faces, Liverpool greats like Kenny Dalgish (former player and trainer) and former players like Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard can also be seen in small roles.

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