Tagged Robbie Gee

Alan Clarke’s The Firm Boils in the Blood of Hooliganism

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.
Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER
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.
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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.
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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 dont they just tellem 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. “Whats 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.
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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.

A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Snatch

Snatch. 2000. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Ford, Mike Reid, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Ewen Bremner, Jason Flemyng, Ade, William Beck, & Andy Beckwith. Columbia Pictures Corporation/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER It’s been at least 9 years now since I’ve watched Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. A one of a kind film. Except not really. Only in the sense of being set apart from other movies, as Ritchie writes stories that all seem to revolve around the same seedy criminal underbelly of London and the surrounding areas. There are some who say Ritchie is too much like Quentin Tarantino. To them I say it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they each tell tales set in the crime world, they each have a pulpy style, but they couldn’t be more different. Tarantino has this almost classic sensibility that translates into his own brand of filmmaking. Likewise, Ritchie has his own brand it’s just entirely another kind of exciting. And as much as I love Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, as well as his later work, Snatch. is always going to be the best example of his directing.
Weaving together a number of stands, Ritchie brings out an elaborate crime plot that encompasses a bunch of classic British humour, odd characters, and best of all everything seems to hinge on that nasty old bitch named Irony and a bastard named Fate. The pacing of the script keeps things interesting and the way Ritchie moves around with his style as director constantly holds the viewer’s attention.
Personally, I’m not a huge comedy fan. Not because I don’t like to laugh, in fact the opposite; I’m always laughing. There’s just never many films that speak to my fucked up, weird sense of humour. Somehow, Ritchie does. Perhaps it’s the relation Canadians have to British movies and television, and that’s why I enjoy this sort of comedy. Or maybe Ritchie and his wild writing appeals to me. In that sense, he and Tarantino are definitely similar. Either way, Snatch. is in a league all of its own.
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The dialogue throughout is downright amazing. Part of that is because I love the British accent and I feel like Ritchie uses this to his advantage. All around, though, it’s pitch perfect. It’s not even quirky, it feels so real. Love every last bit that comes out of Turkish (Jason Statham). Makes me sort of sad that Statham didn’t keep doing these types of movies, not that he has to do one thing forever – which he kind of does now anyway – I just love his comedic timing, as if Ritchie writes specifically for his talents. There are too many excellent scenes. Lots of actors with comedic timing for days, not just Statham. Brad Pitt does a fantastic bit of work as the gypsy bare knuckle boxer and there are times he has me in stitches, such as the quick “dags” exchange with Tommy (Stephen Graham). Together, Lennie James and Robbie Gee as Sol and Vinny respectively work wonders as a pair – their bits in the car with Tyrone (Ade) honestly fucking slay me. Finally, Alan Ford makes Brick Top into both a horrific British gangster, and also one of the most hilarious criminals with his tendency to talk down to everybody and those massive frames that make his eyes look like an angry fish. On paper, Snatch. is good enough. With this sort of cast the words are in more than capable hands.
The best of all? Vinnie Jones. His character here is even better than his previous one in Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He nails it, right on the nose. He’s another one whose presence is imposing, in part due to his massive size. But also his acting is intense. Aside from that Jones injects a generous dose of laughter in amongst his scary delivery.
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If anything I’d compare Ritchie to Martin Scorsese. For many reasons. One is their use of music. Tarantino has his own thing, but Scorsese and Ritchie have a highly similar sense of how they use music. They use rock and popular music, though there’s less of an ironic or iconoclastic sense in the way Quentin often uses a soundtrack (think: Reservoir Dogs ear cutting scene to Stealers Wheel). Here, it’s like a part of the chaos, playing another role like how Scorsese often uses The Rolling Stones (among other bands and songs). For instance, there’s such a fitting, beautiful quality to the sequence when George gets knocked out by Mickey O’Neil (Pitt) and “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers plays. Then just the natural feel of some of the other songs works incredibly with so many of the various scenes.
Aside from Ritchie’s similarities to Scorsese in music, he also gets some influence for his frenetic sequences from the master. This is especially useful because of the large ensemble cast. With all the threads in the plot, Ritchie keeps things rolling with a steady pace. These chaotic moments help move the plot along and you never feel as if the movie drags. The big portions of what we need to know, as in the fine details, come in between the major sequences. After which we’re thrown into stylized segments where Ritchie uses more of the soundtrack to push the film’s energy. There’s one particular moment I love where we cut back and forth between Brick Top’s boys getting Tyrone and two wild dogs chasing a hare; the parallel is poignant, and the song on top makes it all feel lively. A major difference where Ritchie diverges from one of his obvious biggest influences is in the way he uses visual storytelling as opposed to narration. Of course Scorsese doesn’t always use a narrator. However, his popular crime stories which likely influenced Ritchie – GoodfellasCasino – relied quite a bit on a strong narrator. Instead of telling bits of the story through narration, Ritchie opts for a little bit. Then through other scenes he instead shows us what a narrator would only give you through exposition.
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The comedy and the crime comes in equal amounts throughout. Ritchie loves to show another side of crime that we don’t always see in stuff from someone like Scorsese. There are the good criminals who know what they’re doing. Then there’s the lot like these fellas. Most of whom can’t see far enough ahead of themselves to make sure they don’t fuck all their own plans up. Even Brick Top, in all his gangster wisdom, relies on a gypsy bare knuckle boxer to get the job done. Witnessing the constant, consistent ineptitude of many of these characters is spot on comedy.
Everything comes together on its own in the script. Yet the scene just before the final half hour begins shows us perfectly how fate brings everything to a central focus. As the three different cars drive, we see the one way it unfolds through all three perspectives, and it’s just so well written that I had to watch it again a couple times. May even be the best scene of the entire film, but that’s a hard choice to make.
In all, even after almost a decade of having not seen it, Snatch. is a modern masterpiece of crime cinema. Not only does it have the chops of an excellent crime film, the comedy makes every last inch worth it even more. The cast continually impresses from one scene to the next and Ritchie’s writing only gives them dialogue to chew on endlessly. His direction stylizes the film. Although it never glamorizes crime. The opposite, really. And with his stylish qualities Ritchie makes a riotous script leap off the page, grab you, keep you glued. By the finale, Snatch. further opts to get a little serious before cluing things up. So there’s an element of everything, from crime to drama to comedy to thriller. Point is, Ritchie is a versatile director even if he prefers telling stories about the British criminal underworld. Much as I enjoy the rest of his filmography recently, these are always the types of movies I love to see him making. This is a slice of film heaven I won’t ever forget, one that never ceases to make me laugh.