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Friday, June 23, 2006

Like clockwork: A bit of the ultra-violence

Green Street Hooligans

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Lexi Alexander
Running time: 109 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

"Green Street Hooligans" doesn't laud or over-stylize violence, but it does show its allure, and in doing so suggests that it will always be a part of human existence. "I never felt so alive" goes the voice-over narrative in a tone that underscores the voluptuous intoxication of violence, its adrenalin rush, or the palpable pain that can turn almost immediately into pleasure. "Compared to this, everything in my past life seemed insignificant."

News photo
Charlie Hunnam (left) and Elijah Wood in "Green Street Hoolignas" (c) 2004 YANK FILM FINANCE LTD./WISE POLICY

The narrator is Elijah Wood: the sort of sweet, well-behaved boy (or more recently, sweet and well-behaved Hobbit) unlikely to get mixed up in anything remotely associated with the word "hooligans." But the story traces, in convincing detail, how easily he does just that. In fact, his character, Matt Buckner, seems tailor-made to fit his screen image, and then both he and the film delights in smashing that image to pieces with -- in this case, a lead pipe and some bricks. Matt was a Harvard undergrad majoring in journalism until he was made to take the fall for the coke-snorting habit of his wealthy, well-connected roommate. Exposed, expelled and shamed, Matt flees to London to the house of his sister, Shannon (Claire Forlani), and her husband, Steve (Marc Warren). Matt is less enamored of the couple's cozy home life than he is with Steve's problematic (read: prone to hooligan violence) younger brother, Pete (Charlie Hunnam), who, at first, treats Matt like the naive, over-privileged baby from the United States that he is. But once Matt demonstrates he wants to be part of Pete's world and is willing to work for it, too, Pete grooms him for life as a member of the "GSE (Green Street Elite)": one of the most powerful football "firms" in England, and who follow East London's West Ham United.

Matt becomes enthralled by the whole firm system: their code of ethics ("fight for your reputation, fight for your team!"), the way the members live double lives (ordinary citizens by day, beer-swilling hooligans by night) and their absolute loyalty to their team. His relationship with Pete grows thicker everyday, though Shannon and Steve clearly disapprove and Pete's "right-hand man" Bovver (Leo Gregory) is fiercely jealous. Matt is so eager for acceptance that when he discovers the firm members all hate reporters like poison, he covers up the fact that he was a journalism major and never mentions the fact that his father holds a prominent position at The New York Times. But when Steve is badly injured and Shannon's marriage is threatened, Matt finally realizes the full repercussions of life as a hooligan, and the risks it involves. The crumbling of his resolve at this point shows Wood giving the finest, most spontaneous performance of his career; the weakness and fear in his face contrasting brilliantly with the demonic, "kill-kill!" mantra of the rest of the firm members.

"Green Street Hooligans" offers an insider's take on the world of football fanatics, but it fails to explain the reasons why they do it. There is only one brief scene of an actual match, and the GSE members never discuss games or players. So what keeps them motivated? From start to finish, it's about asserting one's position within the firm and about winning (and keeping) the affection of the impeccably handsome leader Pete. By the end, what started out as a tightly-wrapped package of compelling insider info unravels as the GSE members begin to, god forbid -- emote, and maudlin sentiment spoils the glory of a blood-sweat-and-guts, climactic fight scene. "Green Street Hooligans" delivers the fever and the hard knocks; it's just that, like Matt, we're left unsatisfied, full of questions, and wanting more.

Read the interview
She sticks the boot into a male world

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