Dir: Nick Love. UK 2004. 90mins
Nick Love's low-budget, digitally shotadaptation of John King's novel is an energetic and creditable addition to whatseems to what seems to be blossoming into a mini-genre in its own right - thefootball hooligan film. Other forthcoming additions to the genre include TheYank, with Elijah Wood as a young American West Ham fan; antecedentsinclude Ricky Tognazzi's Ultra, BBC Films' ID and the daddy ofthe genre, Alan Clark's The Firm, with Gary Oldman.
It's doubtful whether The FootballFactory will benefit from the surge in popular interest in football boundto accompany this year's Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal, which starts nextmonth. Despite the title, this isn't really a tale about football at all. Thereis no discussion among the fans of teams, players, tactics and next to nofootage shot in or around football grounds. What matters is the aggro, gangwarfare and the male bonding - and this universality should help HanWay when itcomes to selling the film to territories where football enjoys less of aprofile.
The film (already being championed by manyof the UK's lad mags) will certainly appeal to young male British cinemagoerswhen it opens in the UK on May 14, who will relish its mix of sardonic humour,satire and violence as well as its vivid characterisation, helter-skeltermontage sequences and rousing music.
The presence of Millwall FC (a football clubwith a notorious hooligan problem) in the FA Cup may provide a strongshort-term marketing fillip for the UK cinema release. Whatever its theatricalfortunes, the film looks likely to attract a strong following at home on video.
The story is told in flashback by its mainprotagonist Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer), a Chelsea FC fan in his late 20s firstseen having his head kicked in by Millwall supporters. 'This is me threeweeks from now,' he tells us as boots crunch against his bloodied skull .Tommy's world view is unapologetically simplistic. 'The next best thingafter violence is sex,' he reflects. His problems begin (and the plot isset in motion in earnest) when he unwittingly has a fling with the sister ofone of Millwall's most psychopathic thugs, Fred.
Love, hailed as a promising new talent afterhis debut feature Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001), can't resist theoccasional lapses into Brit lad movie cliche. The sound editing in the fightsequences is absurdly hyperbolic. (Every punch and kick registers like a loudpercussion instrument.) His attempts at sermonising about racism and socialdecay aren't always convincing either.
The contrast between the young thugs andDanny's grandad (Dudley Sutton), the war hero first off the landing craft onD-Day, is drawn in crude and mawkish fashion. Nor is Jamie Foreman's AlfGarnett-like xenophobic cabbie credible. The sub-Bergman dream sequences, inwhich the grim reaper appears to Tommy as a teenage Chelsea fan with bandageswrapped round his face, verge on the pretentious.
Nonetheless, Love has a sure ear fordialogue and elicits memorable performances from Frank Harper as thefortysomething hooligan Billy, who fits in his thuggery round his family lifeand flower business, and Tamer Hassan as Fred, the leader of the MillwallBushwhackers.
The idea of the group of tight-knit malefriends who can't grow up and use their own camaraderie as a way of deflectingresponsibility has been explored in films from Fellini's I Vitelloni to MeanStreets. Early on, Love looks set to strike a conventionally moralisticnote. It is hinted that the otherwise sensitive and intelligent Tommy willbelatedly realise there's more to life than (as he puts it) 'occasionallykicking the fuck out of someone.'
However, while he stops short of endorsingthe Chelsea Headhunters' will to violence, Love certainly makes it clear thattheir tussles with rival fans provide an exhilarating antidote to theirotherwise mundane lives. He pays scrupulous attention to the rituals of thefans, their dress codes, their chain of command and their comic book machismo.
On one level, the film is deeplycontradictory. Like Tommy himself, the director seems to appreciate that thethugs' behaviour is moronic, immature and bound to have tragic consequences,and yet he still can't help glorying in it.
The final set-piece battle between theChelsea thugs and their Millwall rivals is staged in a bravura fashionreminiscent of the clash between Bill the Butcher's men and the Dead Rabbitsgang in Gangs Of New York. It's an appropriate coda for a film aboundingin verve and attitude, but also curiously short on subtlety or analysis.
Prod co: Vertigo Films
UK dist: Vertigo Films
Int'l sales: Hanway
Exec prods: RockstarGames, Rupert Preston, Robert Blagojevic
Prods: Allan Niblo,James Richardson
Scr: Nick Love from thenovel by John King
Cine: Damian Bromley
Prod des: Paul Burns
Ed: Stuart Gazzard
Mus: Ivor Guest
Mus supervisor: LolHammond
Main cast: Danny Dyer,Frank Harper, Tamer Hassan, Roland Manookian, Neil Maskell, Dudley Sutton,Jamie Foreman