Cass (UK - BD RB)
Scott McKenzie suddenly feels the need to beat some strangers 'round the head
Cass is based on the true story of Cass Pennant, who was abandoned by his Jamaican parents in London and adopted by an elderly white family, then grew up to be a major figure in the heyday of English football hooliganism. This movie tells the story of the abuse he suffered through institutional racism in the UK and the acceptance he found in violence and the love of his football team. After spending time in prison, Cass attempts to move away from the life he used to know, but old rivalries are not easily forgotten and he soon finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
My first thought when I picked up Cass for review was ‘Oh great, yet another film about football hooliganism’ and the fact that the cast is made up of actors from The Football Factory, Green Street and the extras were real hooligans didn’t do anything to make me think this movie would offer anything original. In the most part, my fears were correct. We’ve all heard the stories about tortured youth telling us how they feel that society doesn’t offer them anything and the only release they have is to live for the weekend and beat up a load of strangers every Saturday, and here we get it hear it again.
The main difference with Cass is that the way the central character is pushed away from society is more believable than just someone with angry young man syndrome. The abuse directed at Cass Pennant by his classmates and total strangers because of the colour of his skin was brutal and unremitting and it’s difficult to believe it occurred less than thirty years ago in the UK, which has now become a hotbed of political correctness. I agree with the sentiment, but the race issues are pretty heavy-handed and there are even times when the screenplay attempts to position Pennant as a figure of inspiration to black people, which didn’t sit well with me given the subject matter.
The highlight of the movie is undoubtedly Nonso Anozie as Cass Pennant, with the man himself commenting on his respect for the actor’s performance in the extras. In a movie filled with violence and bad language, it’s the tender moments Cass shares with his adoptive parents that I found the most enjoyable and Linda Bassett is particularly impressive, who was cast on the strength of her strong performance as a white mother to non-white children in East is East. The relationship Cass shares with his dad adds interesting moments to the story, where it’s the things that go unsaid that are the most critical.
There are one or two funny moments in the screenplay, most of all when a Geordie comedian on stage suddenly finds himself in the middle of a bar brawl, but overall I thought it needed to be shorter and have a stronger message. The timeline jumps around a lot in the early scenes and at certain points in the movie it feels like you’re being lectured to about how hooliganism is a respectable lifestyle choice. There are some good things to be found in Cass, but if you take away the central performance you’re left with not much more than an attempt to combine This is England with The Football Factory and in that respect Cass falls short of the mark.
Cass is presented in 1080p at 1.78:1 and while the Blu-ray case tells us the movie is in high definition, the experience of watching it is less than perfect. Grain is the biggest problem here, which I assume is a result of compression or the cameras used to film the movie. If you hit the pause button at any time, any given frame will contain a lot of artefacts. The picture contains a fairly decent amount of detail, but the colours are washed out throughout the movie. During some early scenes I thought this may have been an attempt by the filmmakers to give it a vintage look, but by the end I realised that’s just the way the movie looks rather than a conscious attempt to use a dull colour palette.
In a movie that contains a number of violent scenes, I would have expected the soundtrack to make more use of directional sound, although the lack of detail in the sound edit is perhaps a reflection of the feature’s low budget. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is sufficiently loud and there are no problems with interference or balance between the dialogue and the tunes from the early 80s, but when it all kicks off you don’t get the sound of punching and shouting going from speaker to speaker that would have drawn the viewer in. Cass is a movie that is heavy on dialogue so while there are no complaints about the clarity, I thought there was a missed opportunity here to give the audience something more than what sounds like a standard DVD audio track.
A commentary is provided by the director, producer and main star. It’s a fairly lively track with the group talking about the improvisation that went into the fights and what it was like to have the real Cass Pennant on set as a consultant. Given that Pennant shows up in some of the other extras, it would have been good to have a contribution from him here as well. The behind the scenes featurette is split into four parts, which look at different aspects of the production. There are interviews with the cast and crew about the fight scenes that used real ex-hooligans, along with a few words from Frank Bruno, who makes a cameo appearance in the movie.
‘Cass Pennant in His Own Words’ is an interview with the man himself that was filmed in 2005 when the production was at the script development stage. We follow him round the streets of London as he recounts tales of his upbringing and going to prison, in particular the racist abuse he suffered on what sounds like a daily basis. We also get a trailer and TV spots for the movie. In addition, there is a short film by Jon S Baird called ‘It’s a Casual Life’, which also addresses the subject of football hooliganism, focusing particularly the related fashions, but with the questionable message that hooliganism was better back in the day.
There was undoubtedly a story to be told about the life of Cass Pennant and Nonso Anozie gives him the screen performance that really does the character justice. However, I thought the screenplay let the project down. The low budget of the movie probably contributed to the look and sound of the movie, but its transfer to Blu-ray does nothing more than highlight the shortcomings. The extras included complement the movie but there’s just not enough in the movie or anywhere else on the disc for me to recommend picking up this release.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 29th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Cass Pennant in his Own Words, 'It's A Casual Life' Short Film, Trailer, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jon S Baird
Cast: Paul Kaye, Gavin Brocker, Natalie Press, Nonso Anozie, Leo Gregory
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 108 minutes
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