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Awaydays

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Awaydays
Released on Friday, May 22 2009

Director: Pat Holden
Screenwriters: Kevin Sampson
Starring: Nicky Bell, Liam Boyle, Stephen Graham (interview), Holliday Grainger, Oliver Lee
Running time: 105 mins
Certificate: 18

The subject of hooliganism has proved fertile ground for British filmmakers in recent times. The Football Factory had Danny Dyer geezering it up as a member of Chelsea's Headhunters firm and Green Street miscast Elijah Wood as an American student drawn into match day brutality. While those two films tended to thrust chest-thumping machismo onto a pedestal (particularly the knuckle-dragging Factory), Pat Holden's Awaydays casts a more critical eye over the acts of violence that have often dragged England's number one sport into the gutter.

Set in Liverpool in the late '70s, Awaydays finds teenager Carty (Bell) eager to run with 'The Pack', a group of young working class men who catch a train every week and attempt to beat opposition fans to a pulp. When he strikes up a friendship with Pack member Carty at an Echo & The Bunnymen gig, he's pulled away from 9 to 5 drudgery and into a world of violence, drugs and fumbling sexual encounters.

Exploring themes such as class, family and the bonds formed between men searching for a place to belong, Awaydays has been pitched as This Is England meets Control. That connection isn't necessarily going to help the movie, because it hammers home how similar Awaydays is to those two superior Brit dramas. In Carty, there's a directionless young man similar to England's Shaun, while Elvis is Control's tortured Joy Division rock star, here substituting Ian Curtis's fight to keep his epilepsy in check with Elvis's feelings of lust towards Carty.

Up-and-coming actors Bell and Boyle establish a believable friendship, yet Kevin Sampson's script never provides more than rough character sketches for the young leads, who struggle to grab hold of their on screen personas. They're upstaged by Oliver Lee, who delivers a memorable turn as the repellent, Stanley knife-wielding thug Baby. Similar to his This Is England racist Combo, Stephen Graham's John Godden leads a group of impressionable teens - on one hand he's an adoptive father figure, on the other a violent bully. Graham may have built a career out of playing the same character, but he's never anything less than excellent doing so.

Awaydays impressively recreates a grim Merseyside of yesteryear on a shoestring budget, with a bristling energy that compliments football's tribal culture. Director Holden admirably refuses to defend the actions of his hooligans, but he occasionally falls into a musical montage trap, soundtracking scenes to the likes of Joy Division and Ultravox in an effort to push emotional buttons. Awaydays is a reasonably well-crafted coming of age story and the best of the recent hooligan dramas. It would've been much more impressive, however, had it arrived before Control and This Is England.


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