Dracula tells the tale of crossing the sea towards England, aboard the Demeter.
The Firm (from BBC’s Screen Two). 1989. Directed by Alan Carke. Written by Al Ashton (as Al Hunter).
Starring Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, Andrew Wilde, Charles Lawson, William Vanderpuye, Jay Simpson, Patrick Murray, Robbie Gee, Terry Sue-Patt, Nick Dunning, Nicholas Hewetson, Steve McFadden, Steve Sweeney, & Hepburn Graham. British Broadcasting Corporation.
Rated 13+. 67 minutes.
There are many films on the subject of football hooliganism. Some, many, are utter trash. Others are a good time. I personally enjoy and love Rise of the Footsoldier, despite its flaws. And also The Football Factory, among some others. Then there’s something like Alan Clarke’s one hour (and seven minute) film The Firm. This was his final production before his tragic death at the hands of cancer only a year later in 1990.
For a shorter than usual bit of cinema Clarke works wonders. Of course Gary Oldman does a fantastic job in the lead role of football hardman Bex Bissell. But it’s success is in huge part due to the excellent little script from the pen of Al Ashton (credited here with the surname Hunter). In only 67 sleek minutes the characters are compelling, most of all Bex, and there’s enough action to keep us hooked with the story. What’s funny is the fact there isn’t much of a story, other than that two rival hooligan gangs go head-to-head in a bid for power, supremacy, the right to brandish their big balls or whatever. Still, Hunter’s script with the direction of the ever excellent/wise Clarke makes for entertainment. Not the type of entertainment a blockbuster summer movie provides. Rather the entertainment of real life, the kind that helps bring us closer to a subject. Not every moment is exciting because it’s easy to watch. In fact, there are moments to which you’ll find incredibly hard to relate. Clarke makes the working class, the lower class, the middle class, interesting to watch instead of feeling as if we’re watching day to day life. Even though we are.
It’s the way in which the subject is presented that makes Clarke and his work so good. I mean, who else could make a film about football hooligans without a frame of any actual professional football? This one is all about the lads that take football more serious than life; it is life. We see them play a bit, but never their club for which they fight so dutifully. It’s every bit about their lives, especially the ones they live outside the sport – insofar as their entire existence is determined and informed wholly by football.
Much as I enjoy some of his roles playing American characters, Oldman has a great natural accent. His British sounds delightful to me. I’m a fan of the British tongue, all the various dialectic sounds from the different regions. There’s something about his South London accent that is endearingly articulate and yet also can dip into that cockney everyman chat, the latter of which is perfect for Bexie’s particular sort of charm. What I enjoy is that Oldman is so often credited as acting with a very big style that’s full of flair. While a little of that is on display here, Oldman does well with his casual nature here. Yes, the angry and volatile attitude is still there. Totally. However, there’s an element about Bexie, specifically as he plays the well-spoken, well-tempered leader to his crew of hard bastards, that is so subdued. He keeps everything below the surface. That makes the contrast between his two lives – the one at home and the one with his hooligan crew – all the more drastic, in an intriguing way. Just seeing Oldman cross the threshold from the outside world into that locked room of his, the inner world of the hooligan, it’s fascinating.
Again, I love that there’s no professional football shown in the film. Clarke and Hunter are able to make the focus of these men’s lives become so clear. That is, like a man on a television program that Bex and his firm watch says, this is really not about teams or football pride at all. It is about compensating, about being lost and searching for an identity. “Why don‘t they just tell ‘em we like hitting people?” one of the boys crows while they watch television. They don’t even know what it is that drives them. Clarke’s film gets at the heart of the simple lives he shows us. Bex likes to hit people, sure. More than any of that he enjoys the control and the power it affords him. He has a place in the world, not just in the middle to lower class being torn apart by Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. All that really starts to crumble when Bex’s bloody, violent life comes literally knocking at the door of his own home. His child picks up one of his blades and just about cuts his lips off, which not only results in physical injury but the emotional rift between him and his wife. That’s the beginning of the end, really. Afterwards the control starts to slide, the power fades, and soon Bex is left with nothing much at all to call his own. Least of all a life of any kind. Without spoiling the end, it’s tragic. Only in the sense Clarke makes clear throughout the film there is another way out. Bex and guys like him just aren’t willing to see it, or even begin thinking about working towards it. “What‘s so wrong with being normal?” Bex’s wife pleads with him; that’s one of the only questions he just can’t seem to answer.
This is absolutely one of the best football hooligan pictures out there. Maybe the pinnacle, even. I can’t disagree with all the other reviews out there saying the same. The Firm is built on the power of Oldman and his acting talent, there’s no doubt about that. He sells every last frame where you see his face. At the very same time, both Clarke and Hunter make this a powerful work on the subject of hooligans. Clarke’s realism combines well with the script. We get a slice of life from the middle to lower class, out of a world where faux masculinity and pumped up heroes are commonplace. We look into the rough and tumble world of the uber violent hooligan gangs fighting for the pride of their club. Or is it really just a bunch of angry young men, raging against the world, against Margaret Thatcher and all the politicians like her? Isn’t it just a bunch of scared, powerless, testosterone-filled wannabe alpha males living a life into which they feel forced by the powers around them? Somewhere between all of it lies the truth. And Clarke does his damnedest to get to the beating, honest core.
Hannibal. 2001. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by David Mamet & Steven Zaillian; based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris.
Starring Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Zeljko Ivanek, and Hazelle Goodman. MGM/Universal Pictures/Dino De Laurentiis Company. Rated R. 131 minutes. Crime/Drama/Thriller
★★★★Recently the Bryan Fuller helmed Hannibal series ended over at NBC, so I’ve been going back over the wonderful films to revisit the previous incarnations of Dr. Lecter in the movies.
While not everyone is a fan of the book Hannibal, nor are they keen on Ridley Scott’s adaptation penned by David Mamet/Steven Zaillian, I’m actually a fairly ardent fan of both. Something I always loved about the Thomas Harris novels was the fact they’re truly disturbing in a get-under-the-skin-and-crawl type of way; from Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon to Buffalo Bill out of The Silence of the Lambs, everything in those pages is pure dread and macabre storytelling.
When it comes to the film, it’s too bad most of Mamet’s adaptation was re-hauled completely by screenwriter Steven Zaillian; perhaps if more Mamet remained, the script would’ve appealed more to some of the detractors.
Either way, this is a pretty damn good adaptation regardless of the few flaws. An at times gory thriller, there is much darkness and disturbing subject matter within this Ridley Scott directed film. Though not all of Harris made it into the film, both because of Scott wishing to make changes and in the name of time (this is already over two hours), I do find the movie to be faithful in terms of how chilling much of the novel itself was, and I believe most of this did cross over.
After the events of The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is on the run, making his way across the globe. Back in the United States, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is still going strong in the FBI. Her most recent case has taken her into the way of danger, as a fellow agent puts everyone at risk. Of course, the rabid sexism of the patriarchal Federal Bureau of Investigations takes Starling for a ride. Disgraced and with almost every single back turned to her, Clarice does her best to get by. Though, it isn’t easy with people like Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) on her back.
Then, a letter arrives from Europe, smelling of fine perfumes and other fragrances. It is addressed to Clarice. It is from Hannibal. Rushing to figure out where he might be, Clarice tries to navigate the choppy waters of her current job situation. But even worse than the chauvinist Krendler is the presence of an old victim of Lecter’s from his earliest macabre work: a terribly disfigured Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) whose lust for revenge, old money and government connections allow his reach to extend far and wide. In Europe, the sly Lecter tries to avoid arrest by a rogue lawman hoping to collect a big bounty, Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini).
Only after the tables turn does Starling realize her only hope of surviving it all might be Hannibal.
Even though many things from the original Thomas Harris novel didn’t make it into the final product of the film, there is a still grisly, nasty heart at the center of its being. Some things removed: the novel’s ending; Margot Verger the lesbian bodybuilding sister of Mason; plus, Mason’s predilection for molesting children and drinking their tears; the original death Mason endures and the harvesting of his sperm for Margot to use to have a child with her lover; and other things such as the absence of Jack Crawford.
While a few things can be forgiven, I don’t know why they chose to keep Crawford out of it, nor do I see how the ending of the film is any better than that of the Harris novel. First – Crawford is an important figure in the life of Clarice, almost like a part-time angel watching over her shoulder and even more at times, so his absence is a little strange to me; I understand there were time constraints, however, Jack could’ve easily been planted into the story at the beginning especially when Starling experienced blowback from the FBI. Second – the ending of the film is fun, but there’s such a tangled, creepy and unsettling aspect to the Harris ending: in his novel, Hannibal first tries to make Clarice into a living version of his sister Mischa, then at the end they run away together in a fit of madness and love. Now, I know some weren’t fans of the novel’s ending. Regardless I found it perfect, to end things in a strange, unexpected way. But is it really unexpected? Can you say there were no inklings or hints of a romance between Hannibal and Clarice? Even in SOTL, there is a strange connection between them, almost like a man lusting after a woman who doesn’t yet know she’ll fall for him down the road. Either way, I think it could’ve potentially set up another film if Harris were ever interested in exploring more of the story. And not to mention, it would’ve blown audiences away to see Clarice take off in the night with Lecter.
Some things I loved.
Gary Oldman plays Mason Verger perfectly. If you didn’t know it was him by looking on IMDB or in the credits, there’s a high chance of walking away without ever knowing. Virtually unrecognizable under prosthetics and make-up, Oldman falls into an upper class accent mixed with disfigurement, religious fervour, as well as a great deal of charisma. There are times you want to like Verge. Others, you understand the nastiness in him while hating what it’s producing. Many times you’ll laugh at some of the bits of dialogue from Mason, though, not in a funny way – more so, it’s a macabre and dark comedy from his lips making us kind of root for him. Above all else, Verger is a conflicting character on moral grounds, which makes us lean back and forth. Similar to the character of Lecter.
Then of course, there’s Anthony Hopkins returning with vigour to the world of Hannibal. Giving us another go round with the naughty doctor, Hopkins is almost even quieter, more subdued, more sinister and unnerving than before. Much of the dialogue gives him a chance to twirl us around his finger, sucking each viewer into his evil nature and never once letting us go. Seeing Hannibal in Europe is impressive enough as it is. Add in a spectacular performance by Hopkins, you’ve got yourself an interesting ride along with one of the most well-known villains of the cinematic universe ever.
Aside from performances and characters, Hannibal is at times fairly vicious. Though, if Scott and screenwriter David Mamet were to have kept more of the original source material in the script, it could’ve fallen even deeper into horror than it did. But scenes like the impromptu dinner between Hannibal, Clarice and poor Paul Krendler, the brief flashbacks to when Lecter disfigured Mason, even a very short video of Lecter biting the nurse’s face (a scene only referenced in SOTL) – these are all great examples of horror in a non-horror film. Really, Hannibal is a crime thriller. Yet so many moments bring us into the horror of the Harris universe. I can’t fault Scott, nor Mamet, too much for excluding bits and pieces of the novel because it’s a thick book, lots of plot and plenty of dialogue. However, I would’ve definitely rated this movie even higher if Scott kept some things in. They didn’t have to be totally in tact. He could have only alluded to certain plot points, and so on. Alas, we’re missing some very meaty, properly hideous bits that augment the entire story, and the movie is lacking because of it.
Despite my criticisms, I love Hannibal. It’s a 4 out of 5 star film, all the way. Many will not agree with me and say the movie is trash, an unnecessary sequel, or that it strays too far from the novel of Thomas Harris. I couldn’t care any less, I’ve always thought there was something special about this Ridley Scott film. He adds only a flair all his own, a style nobody else has, and it’s evident right from the opening moments. Again, it would’ve been amazing to see more of the Harris novel find its way into the script, but for what came out I think Scott did justice to SOTL and the character of Hannibal in general, even without a few key pieces. If you’ve never seen it, or are a newcomer to the Lecter universe, do yourself a favour. There is plenty to love and enjoy here. Lots of macabre nastiness from which to find a thrill.
BackWoods. 2006. Dir. Koldo Serra. Screenplay by Serra & Jon Sagalá.
Starring Gary Oldman, Virginie Ledoyen, Paddy Considine, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jon Ariño, Lluís Homar, and Kandido Uranga. Lionsgate.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
★1/2 (DVD release)
This is one of those films I may never have heard of, if only maybe for a late night search spree on lesser known Gary Oldman flicks, except for the fact I stumbled across it in a $5 bin at a local rental place a few years back; in fact, the disc still has the store’s sticker on it to this day. I saw it, realised that not only was Oldman in it but also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a really big fan, and snatched it up quickly. Turns out it wasn’t just a decent little snag for five bucks. It’s a quality movie. An old school backwoods style thriller. There are times it not only feels set in the 1970s, I truly felt a lot of moments could’ve almost been filmed back then, as well. There’s certainly moments of homage towards both John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, as well as Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 dramatic revenge thriller Straw Dogs. Mainly there’s just a really great nostalgic feel about the story and the setting, which comes across quite well.
BackWoods sees two couples, Paul (Oldman) and Isabel (Sánchez-Gijón), as well as Norman (Considine) and Lucy (Ledoyen), venturing into the Spanish back country. Paul and Isabel now live in the Basque region after they married. Norman, and his young wife Isabel, are heading to visit. An idyllic vacation in the forest turns to a nightmarish situation when Paul and Norman stumble across a deformed little girl who has been locked up in a small shed-like structure, pad locked and hidden away. They bring her back to Paul and Isabel’s home in the woods. But not long after, local men from the village show up looking for the girl, and all is not as it seems in the quaint little pocket of Spain. Paul and Norman find themselves facing a desperate and brutal situation, fighting for their lives, as well as those of their wives.
This goes down some of the same roads we see in Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Specifically, the character of Norman is really pushed to his limits here. Initially even the sight of a rabbit being killed by Paul is shocking to him; there’s a lingering shot of Considine looking fairly troubled by watching the rabbit die. However, Paul tells his friend something which resonates through the whole film – “there are hunters and prey, Norman… it‘s the only fucking truth in this world.” While Paul understands the human nature of hunter and prey, Norman doesn’t quite get it. His rude awakening comes later in the film when the men coming to look for the deformed girl appear to be more ruthless than he could have ever imagined. It’s a really great way to introduce these themes, all starting with just a tiny little rabbit. Nice touch.
I really enjoy how this film stayed mostly as a dramatic thriller. It had a few little elements of horror (the backwoods ‘battle’ between city folk & villagers + the deformed girl locked away in the woods/ et cetera), but it didn’t stray into full on terror or anything. This works really nicely as a 1970s style thriller. It’s also particularly performance driven, as opposed to plot. While the plot is deceptively simple, the characters here are rich and very full.
For instance, Oldman’s character Paul is a pretty diverse character. There is a lot to him. I get the feeling he sort of went out living in the forest with his wife as a kind of challenge. One aspect I enjoyed once the villagers lay siege on Paul and the others is how there was so much tension between the two sides. On one hand, Paul feels he belongs there, and he does because he already lives there; he made it his home. The other side, the villagers, see him still as an outsider. Worse still, he has clearly wandered into their world. He is not one of them, regardless of how well he hunts and navigates the male-dominated world of the villagers.
This leads me to another part of BackWoods I enjoyed a lot. Whereas a lot of films might have taken up a portion of the running time drawing out the deformed girl’s story, rounding things out and maybe giving her some kind of history, Koldo Serra leaves intrigue to spare. We don’t get any definitive answers on what exactly the deformed girl is doing out in the woods, in the sense of who she is or where she came from – it’s simply a plot element. It sets up the city versus nature theme running throughout the film, which ultimately drives Oldman’s character. Norman, Considine’s character, is also affected by this theme, as he is even less of the “back country” type than Paul. He is even more thrown into chaos because of how far removed from that lifestyle living in the city keeps him. There’s even a scene where Norman raises his gun to kill a rabbit of his own – ultimately, he is unable to actually pull the trigger. This sets the stage for the real burning question to come later – can he pull the trigger when it’s more than a rabbit staring down the barrel of his rifle? We get the answer later in a very tense, horrifying scene. Of course, what happens then sets off a whole other chain of events.
The entire presentation of these themes is really well done, and made the film more than just a backwoods thriller. It lifted this from out of simple genre fare. This could very well have been some exploitation film, a cheap grindhouse style movie. Instead, it becomes a tension-filled dramatic thriller.
For the most part, a lot of BackWoods surprised me. I figured it might go down the same road as similar films. Instead, it subverts a few of my expectations. For instance, the scene where Norman is finally forced to either pull the trigger, or else face possibly terrible consequences, I really didn’t expect it to pan out the way it ended up going. I was happy because I thought Norman wasn’t going to change whatsoever as a character. His actions both change him and create more issues for his character to deal with. It’s really great stuff.
The ending, as well, was not something I particularly saw coming.
This can safely be categorised as a 4 out of 5 star film. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with it, but it’s not perfect whatsoever. I think Gary Oldman and Paddy Considine did a really wonderful job fleshing out the characters they portrayed. Particularly, Oldman gives a strong and emotional performance, unlike a lot of the roles I often enjoy him in, and I don’t know how more people don’t talk about this one, or at least mention it in passing – solid lesser seen role by Oldman. There are also a couple excellently paced chase sequences which help move the film along nicely. The pacing was helped by how the plot never gets too bogged down in one area, however, that’s also a drawback – I wanted to know more about Paul and Isabel because it seemed there was more to their relationship than what we were given. While sometimes it’s nice when less is more, there are case, like BackWoods, where I could have even done with an extra few scenes just to really give us a portrait of their lives. Oldman does such a spectacular job with his character, I feel even more justice might’ve been done to the film in general had they provided more insight.
Regardless, BackWoods is a pleasant surprise. When a lot of tripe gets doled out in terms of thriller films, this is a refreshing little movie that doesn’t go down all the expected routes.
While the DVD is fairly lame, providing only the film itself (though the picture/sound is beautiful & it looks gorgeous in widescreen) and a trailer, I highly would recommend anybody who can get their hands on a copy of the film do so – it is worth your time. I don’t watch it often, when I do I’m always impressed with the thrill it provides. If you’re a fan of Oldman, Considine, or just those gritty 1970s revenge thrillers in the vein of Straw Dogs and the backwoods city versus nature themes found in classics like Deliverance & even less praised titles like Southern Comfort, this will no doubt quench your thirst. You can do far worse for a movie night than BackWoods.