30th April 2018, 20:00 | steve_mascord

We Got Issues: Lights, Camera, Action

We Got Issues: Lights, Camera, Action

By Steve Mascord

IF you're looking for news angles in the new film about Leeds' golden generation, As Good As It Gets?, there's no shortage of them.

Zak Hardaker explains why he went AWOL during the 2013 World Cup, Jamie Peacock reveals a crisis of confidence that contributed to his retirement and controversial comments made to a doctor during his final game at Headingley, Kevin Sinfield says he kept a diary about his being dropped in his final season and Kylie Leuluai accuses Brian McDermott of disrespecting Sinfield in his 500th game.

But there's a lot more than these rugby league-centric snippets to the Lee Hicken-directed film, which made its debut in Leeds on Monday night.

The documentary, which opens with passionate and arty rendering of England's north to the strains of The Enemy's "We Live And Die In These Towns", goes on to trace the lives of Sinfield, Peacock, McDermott, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and a handful of their team-mates as they build up to - and lift - their 2015 triple crown.

What elevates the 90-minute film above the other sports documentaries is the depth of the characters - the raised eyebrow of coach McDermott, the intense glare of captain Sinfield, the craggy, character-laded face of Peacock, the common-man Shakespeare of co-producer Jones-Buchanan. They seem so focused, passionate and dripping with integrity and emotion that it's as if we are watching actors.

The introduction, all Dickensian faces and terrace houses, urban decay and rugby balls, prepares us for a different movie than the one that is actually heavy on interviews and low on match footage.

When things settle into the moody, hi-res chats with the stars, it takes a while for the audience to adjust to the pace and the amount of information being foisted upon it. But after some basics are established by narrator Matthew Lewis, we settle into resonant and well-paced story-telling.

The completely unfiltered Hardaker footage is particularly poignant given his cocaine suspension was handed down only hours before the premiere. If the producers were to invent a rebellious character with a determined hedonistic streak, they could not have come up with a fiction to match Hardaker's fact.

He reveals that he went out before England's World Cup game against Ireland, subsequently brawling with a university student, after coach Steve McNamara told him he would be making his Test debut on the Tuesday, only to change his mind the next day - by which time Hardaker had already told his family the good news.

At one point, the former Castleford players recounts getting in from the bar at 4am only to be awoken by Rob Burrow's car horn, ready for training, two and a half hour later. "I want to be looked at like these players," he tells the camera, "but I want to be me."

Tensions between McDermott and his players are widely explored. "I wrote down everything that happened when I wasn't in the team," Sinfield says of his axing. "Everything that was said, everything that was done. But that's for me."

 When concussed during his final match at Headingley, Peacock admits telling the doctor "we're going to do a test. And no matter what happens, I'm going to pass and I'm coming back out."

With thespian understatement worthy of Laurence Olivier, Peacock adds: "And I passed - just."

Peacock says that in his late thirties "being nasty" and "hurting people" started to conflict with "the person I was trying to be". He strongly suggests this pang of conscience contributed to his decision to retire.

Kiwi prop Leuluai discusses playing on despite heart murmurs and describes sending Sinfield out as a replacement in his 500th game, with the match already lost, as disrespectful to the iconic former England captain.

As we build up to to the climax we already know - Leeds' 22-20 win over Wigan at Old Trafford to complete the sweep of Challenge Cup, League Leaders Shield and Super League - the no-doubt-expensive match footage becomes more frequent.

The production values and honesty are each turned up to 11 in a film which faces a battle like everything else in rugby league to find a voice beyond it - but which everyone within the game probably should see.