As documentaries like Broke and Last Chance U have illustrated, modern sport is a money machine that can chew up youngsters hoping to change their lives. While US sports have been well covered in this respect, new drama Tigers takes that microscope to The Beautiful Game.
The film is a dramatisation of the real story of Martin Bengtsson, a 17-year-old football player from Sweden who is the toast of his town when he is signed by Italian powerhouse Inter Milan.
Upon arrival in his new home, however, loneliness and mistreatment from those around him push him to a dark place. Despite having a hard-hitting story to tell, director Ronnie Sandahl seems to hold back.
The real Bengtsson described Inter’s youth setup as “like being in prison”, an experience that drove him to self-harm. But much of the mistreatment is merely implied in looks or quick shots that only hint at the wider story.
It’s also unclear who’s at fault – his Inter teammates are more passive aggressive than the real life accounts imply, while the film is careful with how it presents the Italian outfit (with credits describing a vague improvement in the club’s mental health approach).
Enge plays the lead role with laudable vulnerability, with ticks such as rapid blinking silently betraying a child trapped in a grown-up environment.
The surrounding world is less complex, divided into those actively trying to support him and those hoping that he fails. Neither camp has much definition beyond their purpose to the plot.
Tigers’ problem is that it’s so concerned with the industry listening to Bergtsson’s story that it fails to criticise the system that brought it about. In a footballing world rife with problems, that seems like a missed opportunity.