Judge Clark Douglas says this documentary needs more pyramids.
"They brought me here to get the team to the World Cup. If I don't accomplish that, I'll feel like I've failed."
After spending several years as the manager of the U.S. men's national soccer team, Bob Bradley was relieved from his position. His follow-up job was one that surprised many: Bradley agreed to coach Egypt's team with the goal of bringing them to the World Cup in 2014. It was a risky decision, as Bradley would be living in the country during a time of considerable political upheaval, but the coach was determined to fulfill his mission. The PBS documentary American Pharaoh offers a brief portrait of Bradley's tenure as Egypt's coach, and many dramatic developments which occurred during that span of time.
It's not much of spoiler to say that Egypt didn't ultimately make it to the World Cup, but judging by what the documentary has to say about the matter, Bradley is hardly to blame for that scenario. He blames himself, sure, but he took over a team which hadn't been to the World Cup since 1990 and which was facing a tremendous amount of social and political upheaval in their home country. The infamous Port Said riots (which took the lives of dozens of Egyptian football fans) occurred during Bradley's time as head coach, as did the suspension of the entire Egyptian Premiere League. What Bradley achieved with the team in spite of his circumstances is considerable, but Egypt didn't see it that way: the coach was fired after failing to bring the team to the World Cup.
The only fault with the documentary is the relatively brief running time, as there's so much to cover and so little time to cover it. While there are some compelling, human moments littered throughout (particularly involving Bradley's wife, who tears up as she shares photos of murdered soccer fans that mourning mothers have given her), we have to breeze through the significant matches of Bradley's tenure at a very fast clip. It's informative, but it's hard not to feel that there's a meatier, more dramatically involving two-hour doc to be made from this material.
American Pharaoh has received a decent standard-def transfer, which offers a typical combination of talking heads and archival footage. Most of what's here looks pretty strong, though it's clear that some of the soccer matches were shot in a less-than-professional fashion. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is simple and adequate, focusing primarily on the dialogue. No supplements are included.
While American Pharaoh rushes through its story a little too quickly to stand up with the best PBS documentaries, it's a compelling, sad story worth checking out.
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