Monday, March 22, 2010

THE FIRM (1988) - Alan Clarke

Angry young men frequently turn to sport to re-channel their blue collar aggressions. In the U.S., it's football or basketball. In the U.K., it's mostly soccer (the other football) or rugby. The problem is the playing field's sometimes not big enough to contain all this aggro, and a guy's got to take what's left to the streets. We're talking soccer hooligans, mate, and March Madness ain't got nothin' these yobbos.

Alan Clarke's BBC mini-movie The Firm is one of many flicks about sports obsessives doing battle but sets itself apart by upping the ante on the violence and income levels of those involved. The firms (or football fan clubs) in this film are not comprised of poor working class factory workers clubbing each other with bats in stadium alley ways. Instead, they are upper middle class businessmen, real estate agents with suburban squats and new families like Gary Oldman's firm honcho, Bex Bissell. These are weekend warriors who spend way to much time plotting how to smash up the opposing firm leader's new Mercedes instead of spending a little QT with the wife and kids.

What starts out as harmless (though expensive) vandalism soon turns much more violent. Bex's attempts to unite the firms into one national club in time for the Euro Championship against Germany soon falls by the wayside. When Bex becomes so obsessed with retaliating against the rival firm who graffitied his house and Beamer that he doesn't even notice his one-year-old gumming the knife he used to carve a team logo into a rival hooligan's face, you know he's in way over his head.

The Firm packs a lot of wallop in its 70 minutes. Director Alan Clarke goes full-on Steadicam once again with a shooting style so mobile and energetic it makes you think you're watching Trainspotting rather than the BBC. Even the climatic scene, which I won't spoil, has more actual physical oomph than is required. And what more can I say about Gary Oldman? He's the Pele of thesps, juggling his character's work-life contradictions like a soccer ball on his knees. There was a time in the late '80s and early '90s when Gary was on fire, redefining acting...Sid and Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, Romeo is Bleeding, Chattahoochee...before he became the more reserved, workmanlike Gary in bigger budget fare like The Dark Knight. Well, this is Gary in his prime and on his home turf. Even if you could give a toss about football (or soccer), The Firm is worth the hour-plus for Gary alone.

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