Like a good novel, Lindsay Anderson’s feature debut reveals its layers over time. The beautiful black and white cinematography and Richard Harris’s volatile Brando-esque performance stay in your mind long after the movie ends. It’s the story of a man desperately looking for self worth on the rugby field and from the one woman, a widow with whom he lodges, who won’t give him a second glance.

Belonging to the “kitchen sink realism” tradition of ’60s Britain, the film uses elliptical New Wave-influenced flashbacks to reveal Harris’s rise and subsequent fall. Coming from documentary filmmaking, Anderson (O Lucky Man!, If…) knew how to capture the flavor of a place and its people, from the working class neighborhood where Harris lives to the explosive violence of the rugby field to the calculated glad-handing of the team’s owners.

Like a gangster film set on the athletic field, This Sporting Life is a masterful, sober look at the myth and reality of social mobility and how people use each other toward these ends. Extras: commentary with screenwriter/author David Storey, interviews with Anderson’s collaborators, two early Anderson documentaries and Is That All There Is?, Anderson’s autobiographical final film.

Grade: A

This Sporting Life is currently available.