Screenwriters: Nick Love, Al Ashton
Starring: Paul Anderson, Calum McNab, Daniel Mays, Billy Seymour, Joanne Matthews (interview)
Running time: 90 mins
On paper, remaking The Firm - Alan Clarke's mini-masterpiece about football thugs in Thatcher's Britain - is a thankless task. The BBC telefilm, with a cast led by a terrifying Gary Oldman, said just about all there is to say about men drawing battle lines in and around soccer stadiums. The director of the new Firm, Nick Love, ran with hooligans in the '80s and went on to make The Football Factory, a shouty, pea-brained Danny Dyer film with obnoxious characters and an uncomfortable air of sadism. His last film Outlaw, described by The Times as "a rage-spewing hate-crime of a movie", threatened to derail his career entirely.
Love surely must have thought long and hard about revisiting hooliganism; after all it's hard to picture a Spielberg or Scorsese mining the Holocaust or Manhattan's Taxi Driver fraternity for a second time. Yet here it's a case of better luck second time around, as Love melds Clarke and screenwriter Al Ashton's story with his own experiences growing up around hooligans for a convincing rites of passage tale. It doesn't have the social realism or innovative impact of the original - such things aren't in Love's MO - but this remake works when viewed as some kind of bizarre, hyperrealist pantomime.
The story centres on Dom, a London teen who works for his dad's building firm. He's a cheeky scamp with his parents wrapped around his little finger. He's able to effortlessly con his father out of cash and will happily take digs at his mother's exercise regimes. He and his friend Terry (Seymour) provoke an altercation with the tracksuited Bex in a nightclub, only to discover that he's the leader of one the country's most feared firms. They picked the wrong fight and are quick to apologise. Terry, likened to a "dry lunch" (hard work) by Bex, is quick to retreat. Dom, on the other hand, is drawn towards the violent man in an almost homoerotic way. Bex takes Dom under his wing and they bond playing 5-a-side. Soon Dom is part of Bex's gang, a group led by middle-class men in respectable jobs who punch opposing fans senseless every Saturday.
The trouble with movies about football hooligans is that they all follow the same path, with the end result almost always being the same. Love's movie brings nothing groundbreaking to the hooligan sub-genre, even lifting key story points from the original (there's a nasty moment when Bex's son picks up a Stanley knife), but he drives the movie forward with a decent '80s funk soundtrack and draws good performances out of Anderson, McNab and rival firm leader Yeti (Mays). It's all ridiculously clichéd and over the top, yet once you give up taking it seriously and surrender to its relentless blokeishness, The Firm proves to be an enjoyable Shane Meadows-lite ride with a bit of wideboy charm.
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