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Universal Pictures release Lexi Alexander’s Green Street (that’s Green Street Hooligans for our US viewers) onto UK DVD on—somewhat appropriately—Boxing Day 2005. Taking the Audience and Grand Jury prizes at the 2005 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas in March, this is a somewhat quick trip onto the format having only been in UK cinemas back in September. Some would take that as a bad sign.

Green Street

Feature


”I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m West Ham ‘til I die.”

Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is following in his father’s footsteps and is well along the path to becoming a successful journalist. Working his way towards a diploma at the Harvard Crimson and earning his fair share of plaudits for his work, it suddenly all comes to a grinding halt when he takes the fall for a roommate’s misdemeanours.

Sons in powerful families are always going to come out on top, and with Matt’s father not having anywhere near the same amount of pull as Jeremy Van Holden’s, young Matthew decides to just take the money and run—$10,000 and a visit to his sister in London, in this case.

Shannon (Claire Forlani) has been in England for most of the three years since their mother died, and despite trying to get Matt over on several occasions—including her marriage to Steve Dunham (Marc Warren)—he has never been close. The reason for her sibling’s visit does have her worrying about him though, and he hasn’t even told his father yet.

Okay, so far it’s your usual ‘Bloke A gets screwed over by Bloke B and runs away to find himself’ type flick, except this is where the brother-in-law’s brother steps in. Steve isn’t particularly chuffed that Matt has appeared on his doorstep, especially with a romantic night out on the cards, so when Pete (Charlie Hunnam) turns up, Steve takes the opportunity to hand Matt some cash and send them to the pub. And that’s where Matt’s downward spiral accelerates just a tad.

Pete and his mates are West Ham United fans, but to them it’s not just about their team. Football—note the lack of ‘American’ and the omission from this review of the ‘S’ word—is a funny old game on the pitch, but the fans (for want of a better word in this instance) themselves have a competitive edge as well. Mostly this is just friendly banter, but a minority—and it is a minority—take it to another level entirely, that of regularly trying to beat seven shades of, well, y’know, out of the opposition supporters. Anything goes, and who cares if you get a few cuts and bruises as long as the other guy comes off worse?

Green Street
In Matt’s safe, little world these things don’t happen, and his first taste of the big match phenomenon goes pretty well—right up until the point that Pete sends him home so he can’t mess up a bit of fist-on-face action. Matt is alone, and the opposing fans know who he was with.

His rescue by Pete and his friends is Matt’s first real introduction to the world of the ‘Firm’, and to him it may very well be the first time he has felt really alive. Camaraderie, loyalty, and the general rawness of it all pull him in deeper. He gets tattooed with the crest of his adopted team, gets in a few more fights, and gets his sister even more worried than she was before. He is still an outsider though, and Septic Tanks are bad enough but if they ever find out about his journalistic background he could be in big trouble.

Lexi Alexander reportedly grew up experiencing this kind of violence and rivalry in Germany, and has taken the fascinating—but at the same time, horrifying—subject and directed a well crafted, if somewhat predictable, story. A lot of the twists are fairly telegraphed for anyone with an ounce of intuitiveness, but generally speaking you just go along for the ride.

I’ve been to a fair amount of matches in my time, with a couple of them being derby matches between two big North East rivals—Newcastle and Sunderland, who get drawn together in the F.A. Cup here—and I have to say that even then I saw very little trouble (apart from one fan who ran the entire length of the ground avoiding stewards, only to throw himself straight into the opposing fans!). Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are gangs out there who like a knuckle sandwich with their Saturday afternoon pie and pint.

Elijah Wood is definitely doing his utmost to ensure that he doesn’t go down in history as only being able to play short, pointy-eared characters with a ring fetish, and here he makes the movement into football thuggery seem like it can happen to anyone if they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and with the wrong people. The Dunham brothers are portrayed as likeable enough, and Marc Warren and Charlie Hunnam do a pretty even-handed job (with one exception that I’ll mention later). Pete will even give up his seat on the train for a woman—but the legacy of the Major hangs over them, and Pete’s role as leader of the GSE (Green Street Elite) brings more problems than solutions.

Green Street
The firm themselves are a motley crew, but we are shown that these are not just people with dodgy backgrounds and no jobs. Just because you are a mechanic, a pilot or a teacher during the week, doesn’t mean that you can’t ’ave it (as it were). The one main problem I have with the film is the role of Bovver (Leo Gregory). That he is suspicious of Matt and doesn’t want him around is all well and good, but I can’t believe for a second that any self-respecting fan of a football club would go to a rival firm and ask for help beating someone up while at the same time selling out one of their own. Especially when the two teams involved are West Ham and Millwall. I’m not saying I can relate to any of the violence aspect, but loyalty and rivalry that raw just doesn’t get turned around like that (in my humble opinion).

The other minor problem with the film is the accents. We’re not talking unintelligible (i.e. like Mickey (Brad Pitt) in Snatch), but there are a couple of fairly awful attempts at impersonations of people from other regions or countries. Yes, Mr. Hunnam and Ms. Forlani, I’m talking to you. Getting a Geordie to attempt a Cockney accent never seems to quite work, and getting a Brit to try on her Yank hat again? Do us a favour, guvna!

Still, taking a lot of inside guidance from both current and ex-members of the ICF (Inner City Firm—West Ham’s real life equivalent of the Green Street Elite depicted here), and building on her own knowledge, this is a gritty film, but not quite as shocking as some I have seen. Be in no doubt that it does earn its 18 certificate, and borrowing from Guy Ritchie’s casting techniques and using real-life bruisers alongside the actors works well. The pitched battle heading towards the climax of the film only appears really brutal in a couple of places, but the movie never shies away from showing an injury, even if the cutting (no pun intended) does try and disguise things a little from time to time.

Green Street
You don’t get to see much real football, and even that makes it look like head tennis, but the West Ham Academy kids do get to show a few silky skills while showcasing Frodo’s, sorry, Matt’s ineptitude between the goalposts. This is a worrying film for the way that it makes it seem so easy to be led down the wrong path, but not as dark in places as you would think and a fairly even-handed portrayal of the subject. The early release to DVD is actually a bit misleading in this case, but perhaps it’s just that this sort of film is never going to pull in huge audiences at the cinema.

Video


Presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 (not that it has been shown much theatrically), there is a fair amount of minor edge enhancement throughout the anamorphic print. That said, detail and skin texture are all quite good, and the palette, although slightly muted is accurate and serves the grittiness of the film. Blacks are quite deep, and there are a couple of occasions where dark items merge a bit, but otherwise there’s nothing to complain about.

With an average bit-rate sitting around 5.8Mb/sec, the quick editing and stylised filming of some of the fights is still handled well, and the smoky pubs—including the one actually on fire—did not present any problems to my eye. Not bad at all, but after all this time I still scratch my head as to why edge enhancement should even be necessary when a little bit of aliasing is better than unsightly halos, even if they are only minor occurrences.

Audio


The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track offered here is not without its problems, but I’ll start off with the good bits. The music used throughout the film—from bands such as Machine Head, The Stone Roses and Kasabian—is perhaps the clearest and best presented of all the elements. The moments in the ‘calm before the storm’ at the end of the film are handled particularly well, with some haunting harmonies spreading to the surrounds and most of the bass in the movie comes from the musical accompaniment. The rumble of the train to Manchester is suitably thunderous though.

While the songs show that clarity should not be a problem here, the vocals are not similarly blessed. Sometimes muddy and bordering on the indistinct (although that could be to do with the accents at times), the mixing never seems spot on. There’s even a bit in the final battle where all hell breaks loose and one wordy exchange is boosted beyond it all, seeming all too loud and unnatural. If this were a school report I think I’d have to go for ‘could do better’.

Green Street

Extras


There are a small number of short special features included, all in English Dolby Digital Stereo and lacking subtitles of any kind.

First up we have a set of anamorphically presented interviews—‘Elijah Wood: From Hobbit to Hooligan’ (5m17s), ‘Standing Your Ground: The Violence of Green Street’ (6m45s) and ‘A Clear Direction: Lexi Alexander’ (4m15s). All of these feature input from Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam (captioned as Charlie Hunman!) and Lexi Alexander and touch on the casting and fight aspects of making the film, as well as Ms. Alexander’s directing approach. The feature titles almost take longer to read than the items themselves, but there are a couple of bits in here of interest.

Next we have a ‘Making of’. Well, not really as it’s only 3m18s long. This is your usual promotional fluff that you’ll get on some movie channels to fill in a couple of minutes while you’re waiting for your film to start. Think a few snippets of in-film footage and the old ‘talking heads’ bit and you’re pretty much there.

Matt’s Harvard nemesis gets a music video all to himself. Terence Jay’s video for ‘One Blood’ (3m46s) showcases some awful lip-syncing—along with footage from the film—but it’s a bit of a poor man’s Brothers in Arms’ music-wise.

Finally, we have the UK and US trailers for the film (2m05s and 1m44s). The UK one is presented better in anamorphic—albeit cropped—1.77:1, while the US one is plain, old 4:3, but it’s the latter that actually plays better. The UK trailer almost makes the film come across as a bit of a comedy, whereas the US effort—for Green Street Hooligans—does a much better job of selling the harder aspects of the movie.

And that, as they say, is your lot. Not impressive by any means, and the interviews are the only things even close to being worthy of the special features tag.

Green Street

Overall


Perhaps it is unsurprising that this has not been a major crowd puller, but it has still garnered a trickle of awards (Best of the Fest at the Malibu Film Festival, as well as the two at SXSW). This isn’t going to get Elijah Wood an Oscar, but you have to give him credit for taking on a role in a film by an unknown director that spits in the face of Sam’s kindness, and whups Gandalf with his own staff. When you hear that he also let himself be whored out for publicity just so some locations could be filmed in, it speaks volumes for what he thought of the film’s potential as well.

The DVD, while not a letdown, is still a way short of perfect. Audio concerns aside, the extras are not substantial in any way, and it would have been good to get Elijah and Lexi on a commentary track to expand on their comments in the all-too-short interviews. However, it is a decent presentation of the film itself, and while a dramatised version of reality to an extent, the movie will give an insight into the unfortunate nasty side of our national sport. I’m just glad I got through the review without making any jokes about pop star connections to a certain team’s anthem.


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