Winning trophies and causing controversy wherever he goes, Swedish superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimović certainly knows how to make an impact. His illustrious story has now been given the cinematic treatment by director Jens Sjögren, with the leading role shared between actors Dominic Andersson Bajraktati and Granit Rushiti as he grows older. Based on the player’s autobiography, the biopic charts the early chapters in his life, from his challenging childhood in Malmö through to his turbulent spell at Ajax.
Sports movies aren’t always easy to get right, many treading over the same ‘rags to riches’ clichés that we’ve become largely accustomed to in the genre. Sjögren’s narrative dodges these pitfalls to give us a coming-of-age character drama instead. We see the gradual evolution of his driven mentality within the exploration of his broken-home upbringing, schlepped between his struggling mother (Merima Dizdarevic) and his alcoholic father (Cedomir Glisovic), and as he adapts to his tricky family situations, he builds strength of character through adversity. On the field, sequences are excellent too; a glossy sheen is applied by cinematographer Gösta Reiland and the play actually looks authentic, aided by the fact that the key performer does play at a decent level off-screen.
His confidence is often mistaken for arrogance, and the outspoken attitude of Zlatan is something that has followed him around for his whole career, yet the actors do a stellar job at filling his boots. Bajraktati provides the boyish charm in his formative years, using football as an escape from his troubles and vulnerabilities. As the plot develops, the baton is passed to Rushiti who pulls off his powerful presence with aplomb. Fans of the beautiful game will appreciate his hot-headed exchanges with coach Ronald Koeman (Gijs Naber) and agent Mino Raiola (Emmanuele Aita) as he forges his own path to stardom.
Saying as much off the pitch as it does on, this ‘400 Blows meets Goal’ tale presents an intimate insight into a larger-than-life figure. Like the protagonist himself, the film refuses to bow to conventions, but deft direction by Jens Sjögren and strong frontman performance from Rushiti combine to give an entertaining origins story of one of football’s greatest superheroes.