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The Firm PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
23 09 2009

ImageDirected by Nick Love

The original TV film by this name directed by Alan Clarke was shocking in its presentation of violence and the almost unknown, to many of its armchair viewers, intense nature of organised tribal warfare that happened around football in the 80s. It's partly media familiarisation, if not perverse celebration, of this kind of casual violence, partly the knowledge that older men with respectable weekday jobs are often the leaders of these activities, and partly the benign effect of time passing - and of course partly Nick Love - that makes the flavour of this film quite different. It is straighforward entertainment, a nostalgic and fond look at fashions, music, and outdated attitudes - a period piece.

The storyline is the usual one of disaffected teenager looking for kicks. ‘There's got to be something more than breakdancing and fingering your sister,' the perpetually bored Dom tells his best mate. So when he meets Bex and his crew and gets an eyeful of their gear he falls for their world. And of course it ends in tears. Unlike the recent Awaydays, which attempted to take on all kinds of deep themes and became befuggled in a pother of father figures, homo-erotic yearnings, music, drugs and teenage angst, the plot here is simple, slight, unilinear and unpretentious. Dom hasn't got angst, he's just an ordinary lad from a normal family who's bored. The fight scenes, which actually play a relatively small part in the proceedings, are straightforward- the handheld camera view of adrenaline-charged mayhem, so much more credible than Awaydays' more focused but somehow ponderous mini-rucks - and are probably fairly near the real feeling of being in one of those melees. But compared with Clarke's gritty and deeply nasty stuff from 20 years ago, they are not involving because we somehow don't care about the characters.

It's most appealing when light: there's much fun to be had with the impenetrable fashionable slang used between the youngsters (I predict subtitles for the US release). Calum McNab, looking like a young Harry Enfield, is impressive as the simple-souled Dom, and Eddie Webber and Joanne Matthews are fun as his cheerful parents. Daniel Mays is criminally underused as Yeti, leader of Bex's rivals, though he does look a fine mixture of the menacing and the silly with his burberry mac fastened under his chin like a kid playing superman. Paul Anderson does what he can as the supremely self-confident Bex, but the inner demons driving him remain a mystery. But it's the clothes and the music that are the true stars. From the moment Tainted Love belts out over the opening credits you know that however bad the hooligan stuff is going to be, you're going to enjoy yourself. And what better music to go off to a ruck to than Town Called Malice? As for the clothes: how could grown men dare walk the streets in pillarbox red slim-fitting tracksuits (at least it would hide the bloodstains) or those banana-yellow numbers, and what relation did the preppy jumpers bear to the violence they were so associated with? A goodly proportion of the film takes place in sports shops, with Dom salivating over the Adidas then learning to shoplift it. I didn't believe in those characters and I didn't care much about them and I even felt a bit guilty at enjoying the lite version of a groundbreaking and serious film of the 80s - but, yes, I did.

Seen at Empire Cinema, Newcastle, 15 September 2009

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