Friday, July 22, 2005

The Football Factory (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Many Europeans like to perceive their continent as one of the least violent places on planet. This perception, often taken as a fact whenever someone debates USA or its current policies, is hard to defend in context of what accompanies sports events in Old Continent. Europe's most popular sport - football (soccer) - is almost impossible to divide from the phenomenon of football (soccer) hooliganism. England, a country where modern football was invented, also gave birth to modern football hooliganism. This phenomenon gradually developed in subculture of its own, which later became subject of many books, sociological studies and films. Some of the films dealing with the subject became controversial, like THE FOOTBALL FACTORY, 2004 drama written and directed by Nick Love.

The protagonist of this film, based on the novel by John King, is Tommy Johnson (played by David Dyer), young man whose life revolves about drinking beer, casual sex and occasional use of drugs. His biggest thrill, however, comes every Saturday when he joins his fellow Headhunters - militant supporters of Chelsea football club - in their bloody battles with other football hooligan groups. Weeks before Chelsea is to play a Cup match against arch-rival Millwall and Headhunters fight battle against Bushwhackers Tommy starts having visions about his imminent death, which leads him to start questioning his lifestyle and loyalty to group that includes drug dealers, right-wing extremists and violent psychopaths.

Makers of THE FOOTBALL FACTORY were accused of celebrating hooligan lifestyle and those accusations intensified after film sparking a fight between rival football fan groups in Sweden. Nick Love could counter this argument by pointing to the character of Bill Farrell (played by Dudley Sutton), 70-year old WW2 veteran who praises martial spirit of young hooligans while lambasting their right-wing ideology. Even more telling are scenes in which bleak housing estates are spelled out as the prime reason why so many British youth embraced hooligan lifestyle. THE FOOTBALL FACTORY goes even further, by blaming hypocritical middle class for abandoning blue collar Britons to the vicious cycle of poverty, drug, violence and right-wing politics. This use of film as a weapon in class warfare is hardly original - many British filmmakers expressed similar sentiments in the past, although they don't look as relevant in Blair's Britain as they did during Margaret Thatcher.

The acting in THE FOOTBALL FACTORY is superb, as it is to be expected from a British film. Yet, excellent performers can't compensate for the film's biggest problem - lack of originality. While few films have dealt with the issues of soccer hooliganism, the way Love approaches the problem is too similar to the way Danny Boyle approached heroin addicts' subculture in TRAINSPOTTING. With this in mind, THE FOOTBALL FACTORY begins to look like obviously derivative product. Too many scenes are being borrowed from older and usually superior films like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and GOODFELLAS. The ending, despite great efforts to make it unconventional, is both predictable and disappointing. What looked refreshing in 1990s is now turning British cinema industry into spent force.

RATING: 4/10 (+)


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