The Pass ***
Starring: Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrillis, Nico Mirallegro
Director: Ben A. Williams
Coming out of The Pass, I had the feeling that I’d seen yet another version of a story that has been “done to death”. But, actually, the topic of gay footballers is one that hasn’t properly been tackled (pardon the pun) on screen before. But yet it seems weighed down by tropes and clichés that have been yet to make their big screen debut. And while it takes its subject very seriously indeed, its style forays into the realms of melodrama, with more akin to Footballers’ Wives than any more reputable sports films.
Jason (Tovey) and Ade (Kene) are budding young footballers in a Premiership team. It is the night before an Champions League game after which, only one of them will be chosen to represent the squad. As childhood friends, the pair have grown up together, but the strain of the upcoming match is manifesting itself as laddish banter, rivalry and to both their surprise, sexual tension. After this night, the ramifications will follow the pair for the rest of their careers, as the film cuts to five and then ten years into the future, where between them, they are grappling with their sexuality and the pressures of professional football.
An adaptation of a play of the same name by John Donnelly, the film never really succeeds in shaking off its theatrical structure. Set out in three clear acts, it lacks any real filmic quality, rendering its screen incarnation a line-for-line reproduction of the play, without any of the real pizzazz that cinema could have offered. Set against the sensationalist backdrop of the British Premiership, the situation is rich for contextualisation, but instead we just see people talking in rooms, which affords little to the glamour and stature that should be afforded to the players. Even in Footballers’ Wives we saw them actually kick a ball now and then!
Tovey has forged his remarkably successful career on being the straightest gay man on screen. Perfectly cast in the role he debuted on stage, his persona does all the work here… but both his and Kene’s acting are wholly stunted by the director’s insistence that they play 70% of the film shirtless. Obviously homoeroticism is a given considering its plot, but in thrusting it up-front and centre so unabashedly from its opening, it is never able to move past the feeling that the film is about to break into blatant pornography at any moment. With two muscle-bound men, cavorting in their pants in a hotel room for a good twenty minutes, it’s impossible not to think about mid-00s Triga, or a late night movie on Channel 5. And attractive though that was, it undermined the more serious issues it was trying so desperately to explore.
The issue of homosexuality in football is one of the last bastions of residual homophobia in the UK. Despite the fact there are obviously scores of closeted gay players, there are still none to have come out to pave the way for others, which is unsurprising considering the weight of the taboo. The Pass seeks to explore the weight of that burden, in both the short and long-term. Where concealing it might not be an issue to begin with, the consequences of doing so over time becomes highly damaging. So where the two players’ careers go off on opposite trajectories, the question is posed of who is the happier; the man with professional success but an unfulfilled personal life, or the man with the opposite?
In a film brimming with ideas, its execution falls somewhat flat. Despite good casting, the acting never lives up to the script, which itself is flawed by self-imposed structural limitations. McGrillis gives the film’s most capable performance, with a scene-stealing turn as the honey-trap employed to capture Jason in a sex tape. But as each scene plods through its designated third of the run-time, each with its own standard Aristotelian structure, you can’t help but wish for at least one surprise from the filmmakers. But alas, it never comes, resulting in a film that feels like a stereotype of an archetype that is actually yet to exist. If that’s even possible?
Released in cinemas 9th December 2016