Pros: More than half movie is fascinating and at times brutally violent
Cons: Miscasting, unconvincing subplots and rushed beginning
Here is an interesting, above average violent tale focusing on a sub-culture of English gangs who fight for the honor of their favorite football (soccer) teams that could have been better. At times I was reminded of Fight Club, The Warriors, Clockwork Orange, and Saturday Night Fever. Mostly in good ways Im happy to report.
In a pre-credit sequence a group of young men taunt each other across the platforms in the London Underground. It escalates and they rush up to the street level and have a brutal and bloody fight. We quickly see a few faces that later on we will be seeing again.
Then we switch gears and locations. Were at Harvard College.
We arent given a chance to know or care about Matt Brucker (Elijah Frodo Wood ) meeting him while the credits are playing. Hes packing up his stuff, walking across the Harvard campus and then packing up his dorm supplies into a suitcase. His roommate has left an envelope with 10,000 dollars in it. Its for your troubles, he is told.
Since it is the movies, Matt throws the money in the garbage.
It takes a few minutes to know what has happened. Matt has been accidentally set up by his very rich and well connected roommate. They found the roommates cocaine stash hidden amongst Matts belongings and assumed Matt is the guilty party. So hes being expelled. Hes not fighting the expulsion because to do so would mean he would have to turn in his rich well-connected roommate and he believes his roommates connections would doom him to be disbelieved and expelled anyway. He calls what we presume is his Dad, but gets a message that Dad is off to Kabul on assignment (hmmm must be a journalist). The roommate acts very appreciative that Matt is taking the fall without turning him in and promises that he will do right by Matt in the future and make sure he has a good job. Matts not in the mood for the kiss-off.
Its fairly believable, but told to us in about 3 minutes time so we feel like we are getting the bums rush. We realize when he pays for his plane ticket in cash that hes decided to take the envelope of money after all.
Actually what the movie is doing is getting Matt and us to London, England as quickly as possible. The American character will be our eyes and ears into a lesser known sub-culture. Mark is the American journalism student now expelled from Harvard who arrives in London to visit his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani) and meet for the first time his brother in law Steve Dunham (Marc Warren). Steve tells Matt hes got a special evening planned involving tickets to the show Chicago and Matt should go hang out with Pete. Pete (Charlie Hunman) is Steves younger Hooligan brother. Hes a dangerous live wire. We recognize him as one of the people involved in the violent bloody brawl we saw earlier. Matt is given 100 pounds and if Steve wants some of it, he has to take Matt to the football match with him.
Shannon doesnt like the idea of her younger brother Matt going off to the soccer match with Pete, but Steve whips out the Chicago Musical tickets. Matts a big boy isnt he? And Pete promised to be on his best behavior right?
This plays only slightly less forced than it reads. I think with a few more minutes, an extra scene or two, some better dialogue, the entire first section of the movie would have played much better and the set-up come off much more believably, but well let it go.. I would have preferred for instance to see PETE in his normal job setting (as a responsible elementary school teacher and then find out that on the side and for fun hes a Hooligan gang member. We dont learn this until much later on with a line of dialogue and then later still an amusing scene.
As it is, Petes introduced to us as an unstable, violent brute. We arent comfortable with the decision of Steve, Shannon or Matt to let Pete and Matt go to the soccer game. It seems almost incomprehensible that Shannon (knowing more than the audience does at this point) would let Matt go with Pete. I mean why not just have Matt stay at home with the small baby?
So take a deep breath, accept that this is happening and move on.
Quickly it is clear Pete does not want to baby sit the Yank Matt who ignorantly calls football, soccerwhat a wankker. But Matt has given his word to Steve that he wouldnt just give Pete the money, so they are stuck with each other. In very little time, Matt winds up bonding with Pete and the East London all male football firm known as the G.S. E. which stands for the Green Street Elite. They support their team by beating the crappola out of other teams gangs and by pulling pranks that incite violence in their rivals.
The firm aka gang meets in a pub and we get a primer through the eyes of Matt into this sub-culture. We learn never to call football, soccer; that American baseball is for girls;. that it takes a bit of practice to learn Cockney slang and get it right;. that journalists are not just dis-trusted but hated with a passion by the blue-collar working folks. All of the journos are thought to be tabloid writers who will write anything to get a byline in the newspaper. They manipulate people to get their stories and rarely tell the truth. They are truly hated by the G S E.
This is going to be a problem for Matt we realize but we arent sure when or how. Pete knows that Matts father is a journalist, since his brother is married to Shannon (Matts sister). Pete explains that Matt shouldnt tell any of the blokes in the firm (gang) that his dad is a journalist because journalists are universally hated even though there may be some good onesall of them are thrown into the same category.
Very quickly Matt finds himself in the middle of a brawl throwing punches in the name of honor and reputation. He has almost proved himself a Hooligan. The GSE firm is respected by blue collar and football fans but hated by the police, the press and white collar society types.
The fight scenes are shot with the fast edit cuts of the most hyperkinetic MTV music videos you have ever seenwhich is the right choice in this case as it captures the chaos of a big brawling fight involving dozens of young men pounding on each other.
This section of the movie (about half of its running time) is the strongest, most interesting part. Matt is the fish out of water who gets addicted to the adrenalin rush of excitement, violence and pain and also to the idea of being part of a respected gang.
We learn a little more detail about his life. He essentially idolized his mostly absentee journalist father. Shannon and Matt lost their mother several years ago and thats when Shannon went to London and wound up staying thereso Matt felt very much alone and on his own in the U.S. Theres a father-son reunion thats very well done without resorting to sentimentality or cliches.
Then the film loses some of its charm when it gets bogged down in several subplots and situations that put Pete and Shannon and their newborn son in mortal danger. Most of the GSE Hooligans and other firms/gangs weve met are made up of men in their late teens to their early 30s. However the arch rival gang involves a lot of older men in their 40s and even early 50s. Its just something else that seems forced and is introduced to us too quickly. Theres suddenly additional complications and motivations that up the ante on the brawling and fighting. One of the characters is shown as a completely despicable thugeven though we understand whyits an only in the movie kind of convenience.
And then we have an epilogue that seems very forced and unconvincing. At least it is brief.
Americans get a glimpse at a sub-culture few realize exists. It is at very violent and viscerally exciting (the pre-credit and last fight are the bloodiest) The considerable flaws detract but dont completely ruin Green Street Hooligans. Elijah Wood seems at first far too doe-eyed and nerdish to be convincing as a Hooligan (some baby-faced stars just have a hard time being seen as adults let alone tough guysjust ask Michael J. Fox) and some will notice that the accents vary to such a degree, surely not everyone would be accepted as part of the neighborhood team gang. There are other films about this subject that are supposed to be better, but I have not seen them and so I dont have anything to compare this movie to.
The DVD offers very few extras. You get a promotional 6 minute behind the scenes featurette which has a couple interesting sound bites and gives us a quick glimpse at the director who some may be surprised to see is a woman (German director Lexi Alexander)!!! I say this because the movie is a mostly testosterone fueled affair, very tough, brutal and visceral. She actually had some experience as part of a Hooligan squad in her youth and shes also a champion kick-boxer. You also get a laid back music video.
The picture quality is good, though over processing CGI effects during some of the fight scenes create some grain and color shifts (possibly intentional). Sound is quite good and consistent.
It is aavailable for rental at Netflix and other places. Check it out if you are interested.
3 and a half stars rounded up to 4.