“He conquered the world. He transformed a nation. Then he faced his greatest challenge.” Those are the powerful words in the trailer of Finding Jack Charlton, and it perfectly sums up the life of one of football’s greatest icons. In Noah Media Group’s latest sporting documentary, they dive back into football history, this time by exploring the England World Cup winner and legendary Republic of Ireland manager, Jack Charlton. The story focuses primarily on his tenure as the Republic of Ireland manager but intertwines with Charlton’s later life, where he battles dementia. Telling a powerful story of a man who delivered memories to countless lives, yet tragically could not remember those memories himself.
The documentary opens with a wonderful contrast of two different Jack Charlton’s. As audiences see an old Charlton sitting on a bench, looking on, almost lost, as the audio of an old interview of his plays, discussing how he once applied for the England job but never heard a reply. It’s an incredible hook, as we hear the once quick-witted, honest, and charismatic Charlton, but we see a much slower and very different man on camera. Symbolically setting the tone for what is to come in the next 1 hour and 35 minutes, but also introducing you to our subject and allowing him to capture your heart and mind instantly.
The film thrives off Charlton’s personality and passion, and a big way this is done is through incredibly intimate footage of the man in his prime. Much like Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager, Finding Jack Charlton is full of fantastic archive footage, such as snippets of press interviews, where he jokes with reporters, and footage of Charlton singing with his players post-Republic of Ireland’s memorable World Cup run in 1990. These moments don’t just highlight his infectious personality, but they also add a wonderful blend of heart-warming and hysterical moments, which are much needed in a story that highlights his battle with dementia and Ireland’s once violent history.
Finding Jack Charlton weaves in and out of footage of Charlton’s days as Ireland manager to the latter portion of his life, constantly showing the two worlds this man has lived in. At times, these transitions aren’t as smooth as, say Noah’s More Than a Manager documentary, but when it all comes together perfectly, it really is a joy to see. A highlight is when it shows the Republic of Ireland’s penalty shootout with Romania. It is cut together brilliantly, the many story elements tie together seamlessly, and at the height of dramatic tension, we’re taken back to a shot of an older Charlton fishing before finally watching the winning penalty. It’s a terrific mesh of the film’s visual style and various story elements. Also, it simultaneously gives you that thrill of experiencing the joy and change he brought the nation of Ireland through football, yet reminding you of the unfortunate reality of the former Ireland manager’s circumstances long after this magical victory.
Much like Jack Charlton himself, the film is all heart, but it does fall short in areas. Similar to The Edge Film, Finding Jack Charlton tries to be more creative and almost fantastical with its cutaways and external footage. It’s creative and effective in places; however, it’s a little overdone and frustrating at times. The repetitive visuals of notes, which represent the many notes Charlton would take, have a certain charm. However, the messy handwriting is sometimes very difficult to read, and as an audience member, you get frustrated trying to read it – taking your mind away from the story that is being told. It’s a small detail, but due to the regularity of the notes, it proves to be a moment when the creative team tries to be a tad too elaborate.
Another issue the documentary has is that the story can feel choppy, particularly early, as it darts between different individuals and years. Part of this is because some of the scenes we see can feel irrelevant, such as snippets of Charlton with his brother Bobby Charlton. Although the relationship is undeniably a large part of his life story, certain scenes of the two can feel like they’re forced in, as one moment where deep in Charlton’s journey with Ireland, and then we’re taken back to the dynamic between the brothers. So unlike More Than a Manager, which has a similar style of storytelling, the film lacks smoothness in its transitions.
All in all, though, the heart and emotion of Jack Charlton’s story wins out and will allow you to excuse the weaker portions of the documentary. It’s a story that’s uplifting, funny, and one that doesn’t shy away from the brutal reality of life. Even though Finding Jack Charlton concludes by showing an older Charlton in his weakened state, battling dementia, it still manages to bring a smile and source of inspiration to audiences. Proving to be a fitting tribute to the football legend who passed away this past July.
Dir: Gabriel Clarke, Pete Thomas
Prd: Torquil Jones, John McKenna
DoP: Andrew White
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Finding Jack Charlton will be available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital on November 23rd