Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a pair of reviews of HOOLIGANS, the British football flick starring Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam (Nicholas Nickelby). I'm hoping this flick is as dirty and filthy and mean as it looks to be. Although I must say... every time I see the title or say it out loud all I can hear in my head is Bill Hicks. "We are the Hooooooligans. CLICK!" hehe.
I'm seeing this one at SXSW this weekend, so be on the look out for my review in the coming week. Anyway, this first review is hard to crack... it's complimentary to a point, but not too terribly spoiler heavy (although there are some spoilers). The second review is littered with spoilers.
Hey Harry, I just got back from a preview screening of the new britflick ‘Hooligans’ all about football hooligans. And when I say football, I mean real football, not the American kind, which is rugby with pads. As the film itself notes, don’t be caught at a football match referring to the sport as soccer! Before the show we were told that this was the final cut, and it certainly seemed finished, with a soundtrack and no obvious bits missing etc.
Anyway, the film stars everyone’s favourite hobbit, Elijah Wood. I must confess I’m not a Lord of The Rings fan, and my favourite Elijah Wood film is Back to The Future Part 2, but he does well in this movie. Not that he can really mess up when his main task is to portray the ‘fish out of water’ American being introduced to London and football for the first time. Wood plays Matt, a Harvard student who, after being wrongly expelled, goes to London to stay with his sister (Claire Forlani, in an unchallenging protective-big-sis role, whose character’s name I can’t even remember). After meeting his nephew and brother-in law Steve, Matt meets Pete, Steve’s brother who is played by Charlie Hunnam.
I’ll take a moment here to say that Charlie Hunnam is the reason to watch this movie. He flat out steals the show from Frodo. But more on that later.
So, to cut a long story short, Wood tags along with Pete to watch a West Ham match (that’s a London footie team, for you yanks), and soon finds out Pete is the leader of West Ham’s ‘firm’, which is basically a gang of football hooligans who regularly fight the ‘firms’ of other teams, all with the aim of raising their team’s level of respect.
Can I pause right here to mention that this is not a football film. There is one brief football scene at the match mentioned above against Newcastle United, and another where Wood gives a display on how not to play goalie against some 10 year olds. This movie is about respect, friendship, and maybe even honour.
Anyway, after his first match, Matt gets his first arse kicking, but also earns a bit of respect for standing his ground against the leader of Newcastle’s ‘firm’. He starts to like the team spirit and the thrill of the fight and gets drawn deeper into the dark world of the football thugs, much to the annoyance of Bovver, Pete’s best mate who naturally distrusts this new yank on the scene.
Anyway, on the whole, the story seemed fairly standard, and a bit predictable. There is a nice twist near the end where we find out a bit more about a character’s past, but a lot of viewers should see it coming. Not me, I was too busy watching the savage fight scenes. Oh yeah, did I not mention the fight scenes are VICIOUSLY BRUTAL and will leave you feeling dirty and abused afterwards. Think Fight Club with more violence. And this is real violence – bottles to necks, fire extinguishers to faces and more headbutts than I could count (and I tried). They should have called this film ‘Gangs of the F.A.’
Oh the fight scenes. They were memorable, and shocking, but could have been better. While I like nothing more than seeing a Dukes Of Hazzard style barfight spill onto the pavement outside and involve proper pain, I also like to be able to see the fight without being bombarded by a load of quick close ups and shaky camerawork that doesn’t let you see what’s happening. And when they weren’t showing the action too quickly, they were slowing it right down and setting it against a slow song (as in the final fight scene, which seemed so much longer than it was). But that’s the way it goes I guess. At least it wasn’t some CG bullshit like Matrix Reloaded!
But back to the characters. Like I said, Wood tries hard, but at the end of the day, I just couldn’t believe that a Harvard guy like his character could turn into a hardened football thug in such a short period of time. When he’s out there next to the other guys, he looks like he could be flattened by any one of them! But enough about him, Charlie Hunnam is the reason you should see this movie, you just don’t know it yet. This is his breakout film. I’d not heard of him before I saw this, but we should be seeing a lot more of him in the future. He gives his character Pete just enough swagger and charm to make him likeable, and enough menace to make you scared of him. I’ve read on the web somewhere that Hunnam is like a young Brad Pitt in Fight Club here, and I have to agree. He’s a guy who could get anyone to follow him into battle, and he’s doing what he believes needs to be done: maintaining the respect of his club. He is full of confidence, and is the rare thug who seems to follow a code of honour. He’s the samurai of football hooligans, if you will, one of those characters you know you shouldn’t like, but you just can’t help it.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film. I’m not particularly into football, and I don’t know a great deal about football hooligans, other than what I see in the news, but you don’t need to know about all of that to enjoy this. Like I said before, it’s not a football film. Those of you looking for an introduction to the sport, don’t watch this – it will make you scared of all British football fans! They’re not all like this, honest! The script had it’s funny moments (just watch the questioning Matt gets when Pete tells his mates that ‘The Karate Kid’ was based on his life), but it seemed like they forced more cockney rhyming slang into the first half hour than most real cockneys use in a week. Like Don Cheadle in Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve! But not as bad, obviously.
I’d recommend this film for sure, despite an ending that seemed like the director (whose name I can’t remember, but I know I didn’t recognise it) was taking the easy way out to slip in a happy ending that didn’t really fit the film. I should also point out that there is probably more swearing in this flick than all of Kevin Smith’s films combined, but personally, I thought this added to the realism, and provided a few laughs too. Many people will probably see this for the violence alone, but there is more to be had here.
If you post this review, call me Scott LaGoose.
Alright. So yay for realistic cursing and violence and Nicholas Nickleby and boo for shoddy camera work. Got it. This next review strangely didn't like Hunnam as much, but flipped for the movie. Super duper mega spoilers below, so read at your own risk.
Long time reader, second-time poster (I hated Swept Away), but I thought I should tell you that last night I got the chance to see a test screening of HOOLIGANS, the new film about... football hooligans starring Elijah Wood. I was also lucky enough to be part of the focus group to talk about the film a bit more in depth, so I'll add some of what was discussed here too.
We were told from the get go that it was a finished film- no temp scores, no uncompleted effects, this was it. And if this is the film that reaches cinemas, then I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy it. Maybe enjoy isn't the right word. Not that this wasn't an entertaining, engaging movie, more that its not exactly a happy-go-lucky romp full of cheeky cockneys. I'm not sure how well this review will play for anyone not familiar with (proper) football, but here goes. Warning, this may get a bit spoiler-ish...
Wood plays Matt, a journalism major thrown out of Harvard thanks to his room-mate, the influential son of a politician, hiding his cocaine stash in Matt's stuff. So Matt, unable to get hold of his never-present journalist father, heads to London to see his sister Shannon(Claire Forlani). However, his brother-in-law Steve has plans for the evening, so Matt gets sent off to see a football match with Steve's brother Pete (Charlie Hunnam).
Matt gets caught up in the jokey camaraderie of Pete and his pals, not knowing that Pete is the leader of West Ham United's "firm"- a gang of ravenous supporters whose main goal is to fight the other teams' firms (this may be a dumbed down explanation, but it fits)- which does not sit will with one of the guys, a chap called Bovver. After the match, Matt gets attacked by the opposing team's fans, only for them to be fought off by Pete and his firm. At this point, Matt is still unaware of what's been going on, and can't understand why his sister and Steve are so angry.
Matt gets gradually pulled into Pete's world, and we get pulled in with him. As the outsider, Pete explains to Matt, and to us, the ins-and-outs of the firms and the history, including their previous leader known only as "the Major", and more importantly their enmity with rival-team Millwall. When Matt's clever thinking enables the firm to beat Manchester City's gang at an away game, the legend of "the Yank" spreads around the country. Bovver is still not happy.
The plot leads us to the inevitable cup-tie against Millwall, the first time the firms will meet in 10 years, and to the inevitable discovery of Matt's journalism history and thanks to a flying visit by his dad when Matt is seen at the Times, the assumption that he is an undercover journalist. Bad goes to worse when Bovver invites the Millwall firm over to the West Ham pub and...
(here be spoilers- look away now)
Steve is- or rather used to be- the Major, and his one visit to the pub to rescue Matt results in him almost getting killed by Tommy, leader of the Millwall firm who still blames him for the death of his son 10 years ago. This leads to one final fight, climaxing in the death of Pete at the hands of Tommy. While Steve lies in hospital and Shannon plans on leaving, Matt returns to Boston and gets revenge on his roommate using his brains, not brawn seemingly unvexed by the casualties of the firm war.
Okay, so that's the plot, but what did I think? Well, I was worried at first that the film would be dumbed down and "Americanised" for a wider audience. It wasn't. Yes, things are explained to Matt, but that's because he's learning about this whole new world just as we are. It never seems forced or unnatural- the best thing I can liken it to is when Wolverine is introduced to the world of the X-Men.
As Matt gets caught up in this world, we get caught up. And as Matt starts to enjoy it, we kinda do as well- the laughing, the joking, the passion, the camaraderie, and before we know it we're almost cheering the firm on and wanting them to kick the crap out of the other fans. I'm not a big fan of football, but I got swept up in their sense of passion. Ultimately that's what these firms are about: proving their passion for their team to the most extreme and physical way possible.
The violence is shown as-is. The film doesn't apologise for it, but it doesn't glamorise it either, but shows it as honestly and as brutally as possible. The shaky hand-held camera that takes place during the fights brilliantly captures the chaos of the fighting. And these are fights with consequences. The younger lads are bruised throughout much of the film, the older firm members are permanently scarred.
I think the most important moment for showing the lives of these characters was not during the fighting, but while they were watching/listening to the FA Cup draw, as it showed them doing their (mostly respectable) jobs. There was a human face to these people, and it really took me aside to think that any one of use could sit next to a member of a "firm" at work and not know it.
Wood performs admirably as the fish-out-of-water, succeeding where other square-jawed actors of his generation would not. His wide-eyed innocence and young features are a sharp contrast to the West Ham lads at first, but his gradual physical transformation, from scars, to clothes, to ultimately a tattoo, visually suggest his change of character in asubtle way.
Forlani is her usual self, and Marc Warren (Steve) is always a treat to watch. The only real let-down, performance-wise is Hunnam. He may be a Brit, but he sure as heck isn't a Londoner, and his accent really lets his performance down. I wasn't the only person who felt this way, but some in the focus group said they got used to it. Other than that, Hunnam was also very good.
All in all, this was an insightful film and most people found it to be very good, myself included. I'd kind of put it on a par with something like "Kids" or "Menace II Society" in the way this lifestyle is portrayed; certainly that's how I felt anyway, and I'd say that even if you don't think you'd be interested in this film, the respect and reality that this culture is allowed makes for fascinating viewing, and I can't imagine anyone not getting sucked in at some point. Apart from the very end of the film, which seemed a little twee and contrasted the "actions have consequences" message that the rest of the film had, I'd say this has the potential to be a great little film and deserves to be seen.
Sorry- that was very wordy but I couldn't cut any of it! I think this film is due out in the UK in August, not sure about a US release, but I implore you- seek it out!
Until next time, call me "Pirate King"