Green Street Hooligans provides a glimpse at the underlying fanaticism of football in British and European life and culture. Football fans take their teams, reputations, and the sport as a whole very seriously; so seriously, in fact, that it can cloud judgment and result in severe injury, or, possibly, death. Nevertheless, at its core, Green Street Hooligans has a positive message that stresses the importance of inclusiveness, having a unit that represents a family or brotherhood, and knowing when to stand up for yourself and when to back away.
The movie’s story follows Matt Buckner’s wrongful expulsion from Harvard University. In an attempt to process this change and have a fresh start, he moves to England to live with his sister, Shannon Dunham, and her family. It does not take long for Matt to become involved with his brother-in-law’s brother, Pete Dunham.
Pete is the head of a firm, or organization of football fans who aggressively defend their team’s reputation, often to the point of brawling with fans of opposing teams. After time, Matt gains the trust of and joins the Green Street Elite (GSE), Pete’s firm for the West Ham United team. Matt’s growing involvement with the fraternal GSE clashes with his family’s views and his previous life at Harvard and career aspirations of becoming a journalist. This creates tension for Matt and the choices he makes while in London. Green Street Hooligans has the components for a fast-paced, energetic story that contains lessons that are important for us all, hooligan status notwithstanding.
Green Street Hooligans’ pace progresses rapidly. After the necessary exposition, no time is wasted in introducing Pete to Matt. Their friendship quickly develops, as do their football adventures. The movie’s swift pace is apt as it coincides with the fast-paced lives led by those involved with football firms. One moment members are at work, the next they are at a pub prepping for a match, then they are rumbling with opposing fans.
In terms of narrative structure, the final match, however, is a MacGuffin, in that it sets up the final encounter, but the climactic rumble occurs independent of the football match. It would have been nice to have the increased intensity of the stadium atmosphere contribute to the emotions of the concluding fight, but the somber way the fight was shown in the final cut was poignant and haunting.
The film has two separate narratives at play. On the one hand, there are Matt and Pete’s activities with the GSE. On the other hand, there is the clash of Matt’s new life with his and old life and family. These competing elements are presented effectively and convincingly, and, thankfully, do not hinder the movie’s pacing.
Not surprisingly, the film’s tone is interconnected with its pace. Tonal elements include: searching for one’s place as a result of betrayal, a strong sense of family and brotherhood, and tension and danger. I mention tension because one moment the characters may be drinking in their neighborhood pub, then a few scenes later they are having bricks thrown at them by rival hooligans. It is tense in this way, but not in the sense of a thriller or horror movie. The pacing and tonal components will at once grab your attention and connect you to the emotional and psychological elements at play within the characters and the GSE itself.
The actors, whether principles or supporting cast, put their talents on full display. Elijah Wood’s Matt Buckner is very well-acted. Wood does an expert job at conveying Buckner’s situation, emotional turmoil, and his interactions with his new GSE friends. Buckner has a very satisfying and well-developed character arc. Wood really shows how much Buckner learns and has become “streetwise” through his involvement with the firm.
Charlie Hunnam’s Pete Dunham is also masterfully portrayed. Hunnam encapsulates Pete’s gritty and coarse exterior when interacting with the GSE, but also portrays his softer side as a history and physical education teacher. Wood and Hunnam have great on-screen chemistry, which compellingly exhibits the deep friendship both characters develop as the movie progresses. The tension their friendship causes Buckner’s family and Pete’s brother, Mike, is palpable. This is evidenced by the strong performances brought by both Claire Forlani and Marc Warren.
Leo Gregory’s Bovver embodies the distrust one (or possibly more) individuals have when an interloper is introduced to a group. Bovver’s unease toward Buckner is realistic and the apprehension communicated between the two intensifies the emotional tension of the movie.
Geoff Bell’s Tommy Hatcher, the movie’s antagonist, is a ruthless rapscallion. But Hatcher is not a shallow character. We learn why he is so brutal, and this helps the audience understand his perspective, though his resulting actions are vicious. Bell’s performance helps Hatcher stand his ground as a three-dimensional adversary. This exemplifies the movie’s ability to successfully convey the human element of the characters, protagonists or antagonists alike, and heightens their relatability.
Green Street Hooligans has fairly strong cinematography throughout the film. However, I did not like how some of the action sequences were shot. Often, they utilized a shaky camera effect. I understand why this decision was made from a technical standpoint – it helps create a sense of immersion in the action. Yet at times the camera was so unstable that it was difficult to discern exactly what was happening in the shot. From a practical standpoint, I think a different cinematographic technique could have more effectively captured the action while saving the audience from headache and nausea. It would have been nice if both director Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Alexander Buono would have assessed this choice in a more critical manner. Conversely, there is a very well-shot scene in the third act where Buono utilizes a high angle shot. This creates a powerful, memorable scene from the movie.
Action sequence cinematography aside, Lexi Alexander displays her robust directing talent in Green Street Hooligans. The overall feel and style of the film was an amalgam of director-cinematographer duo David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth’s Fight Club and The Social Network, as well as Quentin Tarantino-esque flare. Fincher and Cronenweth’s reflection is seen in the way Green Street Hooligans is shot in terms of lighting and camerawork. The warm-to-neutral lighting is very reminiscent of Fincher and Cronenweth’s aforementioned works. The greenish lighting color and hue reflects the “green” in the Green Street Elite. It also contributes to the gritty tone. The Tarantino accent is very clear by the use of “commentative sound” through stylistic rock that accompanies many of the fight sequences. The climactic third act brawl uses a more mellow song, however, which fittingly enhances the sequence’s emotional weight.
All of this is not to say that Alexander’s directing is derivative, but you can see how other directors (whether actively or passively, or even wittingly) have influenced her work and the manner in which she has combined those aspects with her own unique directing style. Alexander’s Green Street Hooligan’s also pulls no punches in showing the vulgarity, risk, and violence that often accompanies groups such as the GSE. She illustrates this in a very realistic manner, and, though, the action scenes are shaky, their grisly nature is keenly and skillfully depicted.
Overall, Green Street Hooligans is a graphic, vulgar, and tense experience. It is a film that is fundamentally about defending yourself and your family, blood-relatives or not. Due to the graphic language and violence, this film is definitely intended only for mature audiences. When the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) describes a film as having “pervasive language” it is not taken lightly; Green Street Hooligans is no exception. Those of proper viewing age may not like the swearing and violence, but will likely appreciate the film’s positive undertones. As a result, Green Street Hooligans’ engrossing story and powerful characters are sure to stay with you well after your viewing.
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Production: Baker Street; OddLot Entertainment; Yank Film Finance
Director: Lexi Alexander
Producer: Deborah Del Prete; Gigi Pritzker; Donald Zuckerman
Screenwriter: Dougie Brimson; Josh Shelov; Lexi Alexander
Director of Photography: Alexander Buono
Editor: Paul Trejo
Music: Christopher Franke
Orchestrator: H. Scott Salinas
Costume Designer: John Krausa
Casting Director: Kahleen Crawford; Des Hamilton
Production Designer: Tom Brown
Release Date: September 9, 2005 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Super 35
Laboratory: FotoKem Laboratory
Copyright Holder: Yank Film Finance Limited
Cast: Elijah Wood; Charlie Hunnam; Claire Forlani; Marc Warren; Leo Gregory; Geoff Bell; Kieran Bew; Henry Goodman; Christopher Hehir; Terence Jay; Ross McCall; Francis Pope; Rafe Spall; David Alexander; Oliver Allison; James Allison; Joel Beckett
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Rating: R; Descriptors: Brutal violence, pervasive language, and some drug use.
Running Time: 1 hour and 49 minutes (109 mins.)