Hooliganism has been the scourge of British society for some time: these so-called football supporters consisting of young and middle-aged men make up part of a very violent subculture. This adaptation from John King’s novel, follows a group – or firm – of Chelsea supporters as they go about their usual business of working, drinking and fighting. There is a high degree of realism in the portrayal of hooligan life and attention to the personal world of the people behind it. Although very reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, this movie can certainly hold its own.
We follow Tommy Johnson and his mates who are part of the infamous Chelsea firm and see how they spend their time during and between match days. The motto of Tommy sums it all up: he is a bored male approaching 30 who lives for the weekend, casual sex, watered down lager, heavily cut drugs…. And occasionally kicking the fuck out of someone. I have seen several documentaries on hooliganism and this movie really hits the nail on the head when it comes to realism. Hooligans are often average, working-class men with normal everyday lives and often a family and a regular job. Yet they look to this weekly violence as some sort of escapism from their mundane lives. In that respect, it reminded me a lot of Fight Club, where the organised fighting makes the bored men feel alive and invigorates their tedious daily life. Violence as a form of escapism initially goes back to the Romans and their gladiator spectacles, while hooliganism seems just another modern adaptation.
I liked this movie. I liked the ode it brings to male bonding and male friendship and shows how different it is from female bonding, which is portrayed in countless movies nowadays. It paints of course some nasty, violent sides of it in this particular case, but also the silent and acknowledging part of male friendship, which is much less complex than the female one. This movie has been criticised for supposedly glorifying violence, but that is bullshit. It’s obvious that the hooligans follow a self-destructive path and their weekly brawls eventually seem as dull as their humdrum lives. Also, it is what actually happens around the football pitches and there is nothing wrong with portraying reality. The latter has been reinforced by casting realistic characters and the use of authentic street language (which I always like).
The only real ‘criticism’ you could have, is that it bears strong resemblance to that other (British) ode to nihilism, Trainspotting. The plot is quite similar: there is the main character’s nihilist lifestyle, the voice-over, crazy characters and the harsh, ugly reality; in fact, the heroin has been replaced by hooliganism. Still, that would cut The Football Factory too short. It can – and does – stand on its own. I really liked the natural acting and the mad characters like Billy Bright (played by Frank Harper), the bigot taxi driver and of course Millwall Jack, played by the charismatic Tamer Hassan. This guy made a real impression on me since he has magnetic, street smart charisma, combined with rugged good looks; quite reminiscent of fellow Britons Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. After this movie Hassan’s career took flight and he will star in several big features in the near future.
This movie has a lot to offer and it may not always be that subtle or polished, but its degree of reality is high and it has some interesting layers. I liked the harsh humour, colourful slang, genuine camaraderie and the insight it gives on these people. You will notice some references to Fight Club, Trainspotting, Snatch, La Haine and even a touch of Donnie Darko, but it stands on its own like a whole.
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