Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green Street Hooligans

Lexi Alexander's 2005 feature debut is a visceral demonstration of brotherhood, violence, loyalty, and friendship. Green Street Hooligans is one of those underrated films that didn't receive much publicity upon its US release, but has become something of a cult classic in the years since. It's an astoundingly confident and well-polished directorial debut, and though Alexander has only directed Punisher: War Zone (which I haven't seen) after this, her work on Green Street is enough to have my ears perk up when I hear her name mentioned in association with future projects.

Green Street Hooligans
Co-writer/Director: Lexi Alexander
Starring: Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam, Claire Forlani

Every time I watch this film, I'm reminded of Kathryn Bigelow's accomplishments in Point Break: getting into a world dominated by males and portraying them in a stylized but still believable way. Alexander seems to have Bigelow's touch in that regard, especially with the themes that arise in Green Street Hooligans. This movie is able to take classic story paradigms and weave them into a story that gives the audience an intimate look at a world we've never really been privy to before. How many times since the story of Judas have we seen a jilted friend betray their own side in a movie? Thousands. But how many times have we seen it set within the cutthroat world of football firms? None that I can remember.

If you're unfamiliar, the story follows Matt Buckner (Wood), a former Harvard journalism student booted from the university thanks to his roommate hiding cocaine in Matt's stuff. He travels to London to visit his sister (Forlani) and after the reunion he meets up with her husband's brother, Pete (Hunnam). Pete is the leader of the Green Street Elite, a football ("for f*ck's sake, stop calling it soccer!") firm: they're like a gang, but not quite as barbaric. Each team in the league has a firm, and each firm is all about supporting their team and doing anything they can to embarrass the other firms; if that includes brawling in the streets after a match, then so be it. It's all about standing your ground, even if you're outnumbered. Matt - having never been in a fight in his life - is quickly intoxicated with this world and becomes Pete's right hand man. I won't ruin any details for you, but if you're OK with heavy amounts of profanity, then I give this movie a strong recommendation.

Elijah Wood puts in some really solid work here, easily stepping away from his Lord of the Rings role and adding another dynamic character to an ever-expanding resume. But the real star here is Charlie Hunnam, an actor who - if you're like me and have never seen "Sons of Anarchy" - you're probably unfamiliar at this point since he's yet to properly receive the credit he deserves. The dude is mesmerizing as Pete, an alpha male that could have been just another boring archetype in the hands of a less talented actor. Hunnam has a magnetic quality to him (and this character is particularly interesting, so credit goes to the screenwriters as well), and he propels the story forward and keeps the audience captivated throughout. Buckner's story is seemingly the more important one, but it's so trite - again, we've seen the blackmailing roommate story before - that we can't help but be drawn to Pete and his arc.

Alexander proved surprisingly adept at handling the brutal violence in this movie, embracing it as a key element that separates it from other journalist-gone-wild stories made in recent years. Shaky cameras and blurred visuals work organically here instead of coming off as a stylistic gimmick; Buckner's never been in a fight before, so of course his first one should be a blaze of quick images and snatches of movement here and there. Soon after, he becomes almost addicted to that world, so the fights are shown in a similarly hazy way that resemble a drug induced effect. While I'm sure the sports fanatics may desire a bit more football in the movie, this story clearly is more about the men who surround the sport than the sport itself. That said, the arena sequences felt a bit undershot, as if the crew only had an hour to capture everything they needed that day.

There's a lot about this movie that we've seen before as an audience, but there's also enough differentiation to make it worth seeing if you haven't. Bring friends, have a party; if you love swearing in an English accent, this will be a bundle of joy for you. Everyone else - perhaps those of you who are looking for a legitimate story of redemption sprinkled with epic Shakespearean themes - this is also a great place to look. Green Street Hooligans is the type of movie that, if it were a person, would punch you in the face and buy you a beer afterwards. It's one that makes you appreciate life and reevaluate the way you live it. But most importantly, it's just a freaking good movie in a time in which those are harder and harder to come by. Until next time...

(Also, I know there's a direct-to-DVD sequel out there, but fair warning: I've heard it's terrible.)


Panther Joe said...

Bahhh, this is always around the top ten of my queue, but it always gets bumped for new releases. Great to know someone else has an interest in it.

Kristin Schwanke said...

Loved this movie! Made me want to go over to the UK and kick some ass! :)