Football Factory Review: Off the Production Line, but Still a First Pressing...More or Less.
Dir: Nick Love
Prod: Allan Niblo, James Richardson
Written: Nick Love, John King (author: The Football Factory)
Cinematography Damian Bromley,
Editing: Stuart Gazzard
Music: Ivor Guest
Released: May 2004
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Starring: Danny Dyer, Frank Harper, Tamar Hassan, Roland Manookian, Neil Maskell
How Can Something be Both Mesmerising at the Same Time as Being Mediocre?
It is sensory, that is how. To those who expect a slating of Danny Dyer, it is not going to happen. He is a damn fine actor, just has terrible direction and choices. Still he went on to what he went on to, and this is about Football Factory and not Mr Dyer.
This movie must be given a fist-bump for the choice of music. As it begins, we start the aural battering of sensory magnificence with a brooding scene of upcoming violence set to Primal Scream’s ‘Swastika Eyes’. Later it sees such stalwarts as The Libertines and David Guetta at their very best. It is palpable. We are introduced to the gang and explained by Dyer V.O about what makes the characters. The vicious bully Bright (Harper) and coke freak Zeberdee (Roland Manookian, a rising star) and others. Harper shows his nastiness quick time. There are peripherals in the shape of his military-misty-eyed Grandfather Bill Farrell. The intro, and many other parts are superbly edited by Stuart Gazzard and entertain and inform. Never with clumsy exposition, an easy mistake. The camerawork, re-shots, slow focus, and CCTV-style keeps coming.
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Some hilarious dialogue (Frank Harper to some belligerent Stoke fans is the greatest line of the day) and it is revealed to be a typical life-assessing theme. Is this behaviour right, morally, physically, and logically? Danny is self-deprecating as Tommy Johnson, a far-cry from the loveable Moff of Human Traffic. The dialogue is one of the highlights, thanks to Nick Love and John King’s script It wins the award for the most realistic dream-sequence dialogue ever. Perfect. No mysterious dwarves and whatnot.
So, let me address the moral issue. I must disapprove in many ways in a film that does this, in the same way as Trainspotting encouraged and increased heroin use, particularly in the club scene for post-speed comedown relief. I worry that impressionable folk will see too much of the camaraderie and fun and forget that most football thugs never fight. It is a lot of running from the cops and bravado. It is vital to remember that just one punch is often enough to kill. Doesn’t even have to be a hard punch. Just the right place to set off an aneurysm or, more indirectly to cause a fall (take Cirencester, the first and only street killing was an after-pub slanging match with a single punch thrown.The aftermath is an only-child gone, parents ruined, and a spirited and aggressive but not murderous young man’s life ruined forever. That is one small Cotswold town.) Fighting is ludicrous and dangerous. You may not die, you may just develop Parkinson’s, epilepsy, brain-damage, permanent facial scarring, Crohns disease, or paralysis. Okay, yes there is a buzz and a feeling of inclusion, but it is not playing the odds if you want a life. This movie certainly does not show this. The end message is thoroughly irresponsible, and as likely as Iron Man. The result of what happens to Danny Dyer’s Tommy Johnson and him walking away with his life, let alone the same capacity for thought and engagement as before is idiotic. Most people have enough savvy to realise this, but with a film watched by millions, enough will not and for that reason I can never fully endorse this picture.
That said, I can praise it. Like was said, the music, graphics, and script are first rate. The intersperses of the current-affairs radio and TV shows as well as enough early 21st-century London culture to match even hardcore Albionics and soundtrack-partners, The Libertines. On this subject, no one can deny this film certainly added to that contemporary zeitgeist of the London is cool again feeling we had. Whilst the story has a few hurdles of morality, it also was a culturally vital piece. Sadly, now it is a tired old genre. Green St, Rise of the Footsoldier, (and unclassifiable sequels to both) and an awful remake of the Gary Oldman classic, The Firm, all of these did their bit, some helped increase it, most helped end it. Especially as a couple were more than just a little bit US influenced (Green St 2 we are talking to you) which was a true embarrassment.
As tends to be in any film he is in, the real star of the cast is the somewhat typecast, but still fantastic Frank Harper. There is soon to be a Shane Meadows review, and Frank Harper did his finest work in some of those movies, particularly TwentyFourSeven and A Room for Romeo Brass.
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More to be of note is the story. Simple, but clever, surreal, but possible. Obviously, the duality of man internal battle between what is right and wrong that is the philosophical bent, is far from new. On the other hand, it did not have that much similar subject matter to draw influence from. I.D and TV movie; The Firm are the only ones that come to mind. It is far from plagiarism though. Those were both made during the transition from lager-lout bovver-boys on the terraces to the ‘casual’ football thug with a brain, a wallet, and no fighting at the ground. After all, can you imagine Phil Mitchell (The Firm) and Dim from Clockwork Orange (I.D) running about with Danny Dyer and Tamar Hassan? Also worth noting is that Drugs play a big part, with cocaine being considered nothing more than a paraphernalia to the act, whereas in the eighties movement (perhaps to satisfy the screen censors that were much more sewn-up on accepting such behaviour as regular) there was little of that foolishness to be seen. This explains the heavy use of contemporary culture and imagery not seen in other hooligan-based movies.
There are definitely struggles aplenty here in the "hold on a minute..." stakes. He works in a florist, yet this gives him funds to have a central London home, a cocaine habit, Prada and various other label-wear in his wardrobe (the product placement/mentioning is about as subtle as Frank Harper), Chelsea seasons ticket, and a consumer-led day-to-day life. It is obviously hinted at other nefarious practices going on at the florists, but that is more by the owner than the worker-bees. It also appears that in England , gangs of Scousers, far more than can fit in the one car they own, apparently hang out on wasteland waiting for rogue Londoners to pick off. Not sure where but it is far away enough from Brookside-land to need to get on another motorway that is still distance away enough to warrant a service station stop on the way to the ground
Then you have to wonder why he is so into it, the whole scene, it doesn’t seem to pay off. The usual cliched answers from inferior versions (the absurd “Cass” for one) is the camaraderie. Here it is more just a mob. His mates are never there for him, they ditch him for girlfriends, play practical jokes that are dangerously close to too far, and seem top behave like a gang of casual acquaintances, rather than good friends. He is clearly respected by them, and is not singled-out, but the whole gang just seem to get on each other’s nerves and be with each other by default.
Finally, SPOILER ALERT and I am going to presume most reading this have seen it, so if you are reading and have not, stop now as it is a SPOILER ALERT
At the end, Tommy Johnson asks himself “was it all worth it?” and it is a totally absurd question. The beating he takes from Fred and the Millwall gang would have easily killed him, at best permanent internal and brain damage. Yet once again, where were his mates, carrying on the scrap, whilst he was dragged off by eight lumps and beaten to a literal pulp. Any of you suffered a broken rib, busted nose, ruptured stomach, injured back, or any physical trauma will know the rehabilitation is long, awkward, and painful. He has to go through it all times ten, as well as being beaten about the testicles so all he can pull for the next six months is “a fucking chain” (short-sighted as he will probably never recover fully, nadularly-speaking). So, he could have gone to Australia and recovered in the sun with his family, or stayed and be winked at, cheered for, and then forgotten by the Chelsea gang. After this, he still says: “Cauwse it Fackin’ woz”
Usually you can see a point, if not agreeing, in this case, it felt a bit stupid and a reason for a sequel. God help us. Now that WOULD be a mistake.
Oh! I forgot, and P.S
Jamie Foreman as the prejudiced cabbie is a total score and hilariously fits in as a little bonus that in so many less-skilled director’s hands would have been Adam Sandler-esque comic-relief that could cheapen and humiliate a movie whilst pissing off the viewers. Very funny.