Movie Review – Rollerball (1975)

Director: Norman Jewison

Stars: James Caan, Maud Adams, John Beck, John Houseman, Moses Gunn, Shane Rimmer

In the future, after another world war and a corporate war, the world is at peace. Corporations run the world and all sponsor a sport called Rollerball. The game consists of two teams using roller skates around a track to try and throw a ball into a bucket (it looks much cooler than it sounds). Jonathan E. (Caan) is the biggest star and the most successful player on the planet, but as his team gets closer to the championship he’s warned by an executive that the time could be ripe for him to step down.

I’m normally more a fan of sporting movies than I am of sports, but fictional sports can be hit or miss. The actual game of rollerball is fast, frenetic, and brutal. I enjoyed these portions of the film the most. It’s fairly easy to pick up on the rules of the game without there having to be a heavy exposition dump, and you soon feel the tension of the crowd. The film starts off with a match and then slows down into more of a character study as we see Jonathan trying to figure out why the executive wants him to retire so early. The answer, of course, is that Rollerball was made to numb the masses and show that no matter how good an individual is they are subservient to the team. Jonathan is becoming a cult hero and that threatens everything the corporations strived for.

The middle portion of the film bogs down. It’s a sharp contrast to the frenzy of the rollerball arena. Through this we get a sense of the world, that although it’s calm and placid there’s an unnerving sense that all is not quite right. As the film goes along we get a better sense of just how the executives manipulate and control the sport, and there’s genuine tension as the teams get news that arbitrary rules have been changed.

I didn’t care for the self-discovery parts of the film. They dragged out and I’m not sure Caan is the strongest actor to pull off the nuances of the role. I also feel that the film wanted to try and be a bit clever in how it put forward the point it was trying to make, and I think it would have been better served being more straightforward, rather than just showing a bunch of people setting fire to trees. It wasn’t really subtle and it got repetitive. Where the film does shine is the arena. The final two matches are so gruesome and tense, I honestly felt like I was watching an actual match take place. If you don’t mind a bit of social commentary mixed in with your sports films Rollerball is a pretty good one to watch.


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