Judge Clark Douglas is a ping-pong hooligan.
From the director of The Football Factory.
"You don't want to make one with me, mate. I'll #$@%!*% leave you behind."
Facts of the Case
Our story begins in East London in the early 1980s. Dom (Calum Macnab, The Football Factory) is an ordinary teen who spends his days in ordinary fashion: trying to find a girlfriend, hanging out with his best friends and borrowing money from his disheveled dad (Eddie Webber, The Business). One day, Dom's life takes a frightening turn when he and one of his friends accidentally insult the notorious West Ham United football firm leader Bex (Paul Anderson, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows). Thankfully, Bex agrees to forgive Dom's unintended offense, and even takes the young lad in under his wing. In no time at all, Dom finds himself a full-blown member of one of the nation's most prominent football firms. The perks which come with this life are immensely appealing: trendy clothes, women and powerful mates. Even so, being a member also requires one to participate in a certain amount of violent activity. Dom finds the post-game brawls a thrill at first, but begins to doubt his new life when things start turning exceptionally brutal. Will he find a way out of his complicated relationship with Bex?
As an American southerner, the whole concept of football hooliganism is pretty foreign to me, but it's a prominent, unfortunate part of everyday life in parts of the world where soccer…er, football…really matters. Director Alan Clarke explored this subject in memorable fashion with the well-regarded 1988 made-for-TV film The Firm, starring a young Gary Oldman as the explosive Bex. In 2009, oft-debated British director Nick Love decided to put his own spin on the material with a big-screen remake which would remove the focus from Bex and instead present an innocent teen as the film's protagonist. It's an interesting idea in theory, but the execution is dispiritingly familiar. I may not have much knowledge of the world of football firms, but I'm all-too-familiar with worn-out storytelling conventions.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: a naive, wide-eyed, enterprising young guy craves the respect of a powerful older guy, and gets involved in that older guy's seedy-but-glamorous world. Things seem incredibly lucrative at first and the young guy starts living the good life, but after a while the dark side of this glamorous life begins to reveal itself. Eventually, this places the young guy and the old guy in some sort of conflict with each other which probably won't reach a happy resolution. You've seen this tale in Goodfellas, Boogie Nights and a host of less compelling films, and The Firm offers a football firm-themed take on it without tweaking the formula one bit. You'll see every development coming well in advance, so the only question is whether the film's performances, atmosphere and general craftsmanship are strong enough to make it worth watching in spite of the formulaic story. Well…maybe.
Nobody was ever going to top Oldman's powerhouse performance, but Paul Anderson is certainly a compelling villain. Bex isn't quite the cocky charmer he likes to think he is; his hair-trigger temper frequently undoes his efforts to maintain his image as the cool, calm, methodical leader of the group. As a result, his underlings question his authority on a semi-regular basis, which only makes Bex all the more irritable. Anderson commands every scene he appears in, but Dom isn't nearly that interesting. This isn't a fault of the acting; Calum MacNab does everything he can with the simple role. The problem is that Dom is basically a blank slate, a character designed to give the audience an entry point into the film's violent world. He's not quite compelling enough to carry the film on his own, so the movie struggles during some of his biggest scenes.
Even so, The Firm is an easy watch thanks to its basic surface pleasures, relatively fast pace and likable fringe elements. I flat-out adored Eddie Webber and Camille Coduri as Dom's affectionate but playful parents, as they create characters who feel genuine and lived-in. The soundtrack is littered with memorable '80s pop tunes, and the film's super-'80s set design is fun (if kind of obvious in a box-ticking sort of way—an arcade here, a new wave hairdo there). The dialogue sometimes leans too heavily on colorful macho posing (the most blatant examples are best left unprinted), but it does have a certain snappy playfulness which is fun. There's little to really dislike in the movie, but it just isn't substantial or unique enough to leave the devastating emotional impact it's clearly aiming for. "Lightweight entertainment" seems insufficient for this tale.
The Firm (Blu-ray) has received a gorgeous transfer from the folks at Twilight Time, who generally specialize in films a good bit older than this one. Detail is superb throughout, allowing viewers to fully appreciate Love's attentive production design and the distinctively bedraggled faces of the supporting characters. Depth is superb throughout, and the heavily-filtered cinematography looks crisp and clear. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track fares best during the large-scale fight scenes, creating a feeling of frightening chaos. The assorted pop/funk tunes also fare exceptionally well, and dialogue is clean throughout. Supplements include a commentary with Love, a standard making-of featurette and an "Anatomy of the Fight Scenes" featurette, deleted scenes, an isolated score track (customary for Twilight Time, but still surprising given the limited original score featured in the film) and a booklet featuring an essay on the contrast between this film and the original.
The Firm is decent (and perhaps a bit educational for viewers such as myself who aren't particularly familiar with the subculture the movie details), but leans too heavily on formula to achieve its potential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
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