Revisiting Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Invincible’ ten years on

Disney’s Invincible, in the way that many sports movies are, is based on a true story.

This 2006 film concerns Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), a regular Joe bartender in 1970s Philadelphia; a city where jobs are scarce, and signs of hope scarcer. Vince and his pals try to make the best of it by drinking the nights away and playing football in a nearby carpark, but even their beloved Philadelphia Eagles are crashing and burning.

So bad are the Eagles, in fact, that they bring a new manager – Greg Kinnear’s Dick Vermeil – who promptly holds open trials. Convinced to go along by his friend Tommy (Kirk Acevado), Vince makes the cut, and the hopes of not just the team, but perhaps a whole city come to rest on his shoulders.

Invincible is a film absolutely devoid of surprises – it is the archetypal sports movie. You’ll know every beat before it’s played. But sometimes it doesn’t matter if a film isn’t breaking the mould, as long as what comes out of it is fully formed and well made.

And Invincible is; it’s a good story, told capably. And don’t worry if you don’t know anything about American football – the film is less concerned with the fortunes of the Eagles, as it is the struggling people of Philadelphia. Papale becomes a symbol; if he can rise from the doldrums to the NFL, then maybe any of them can achieve. If the Eagles can return to form, then perhaps the city can experience a similar resurgence.

Mark Wahlberg makes for an affable enough lead, and his easy chemistry with Elizabeth Banks’ New York Giants-supporting fellow bartender makes for a nice romantic subplot. But it’s perhaps the barflies that either support or resent Vince’s success that are the most interesting, standing as they do as the city’s problems in microcosm. Kirk Acevado in particular is excellent.

Director Ericson Core shoots most of the film in a sepia-tinged hue, which not only implies the period setting, but also helps convey the general sense of malaise that sits over the city and its inhabitants.

In a clever move, once Vince steps out onto the gridiron for his first professional game, the sepia filter drops, and the stark colours of reality reinforce how real things have just gotten for him; he’s in the big time, now. The aesthetic change makes the football scenes stand out and gives them far greater impact.


The pacing, the subplots, the score, the heroic final play in the must-win game… it’s all present and correct. Invincible is like a comfort blanket: you know exactly what you’re getting and you could bet on the movie’s outcome right from the start. You can find more interesting sports bets on!

But if you like sports films, and want to let the particular rhythms of the genre carry you along for an hour and a half, you could do a lot worse than this gently charming endeavour.