Streets of Fire
Once in a while, you'll see something on the news about sports fans going overboard, but America pales in comparison to what happens on the other side of the pond, especially when it comes to the world's most popular sport: football (or soccer, to the U.S.). Green Street Hooligans takes place in the world of football firms, groups of fans who pledge allegiance to their favorite team and defend their honor by any means necessary. When you boil it down, hooliganism is as much about the sport itself as Citizen Kane was about the newspaper business; it's more centered on maintaining a tough reputation and not backing down from a challenge, no matter what the cost -- and Green Street Hooligans does an admirable job of giving viewers a front-row seat to this dangerous and chaotic world.
Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is a journalism student who, after taking the rap for his preppy roommate's drug stash, ends up getting booted out of Harvard. Seeing no other path to take, Matt decides to visit his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani), who lives in England with her husband Steve (Marc Warren) and their infant son. But a romantic night for the couple results in Matt hanging out with Steve's brother Pete (Charlie Hunnam), the leader of a football firm called the Green Street Elite that supports the West Ham United team.
Though a bit of the ugly American at first, Matt slowly becomes drawn into the world of hooliganism after a couple of run-ins with opposing firms, especially West Ham's arch nemesis, Millwall (a rivalry Pete compares to the Israelis and Palestinians). The drop-of-a-hat fights and beatings cast a spell over Matt, giving him a feeling of pride, power, and self esteem -- albeit at the cost of slowly alienating his family and edging closer every day toward the dangerous step of becoming a hooligan.
After his gargantuan success in the Lord of the Rings series and a surprisingly villainous turn in Sin City, Elijah Wood will likely turn out to be the reason most viewers decide to give Green Street Hooligans a spin in their DVD players. However, although Wood has first billing, the real star of the film is Charlie Hunnam. Moviegoers have seen only glimpses of him so far, as the missing boyfriend in Abandon and as the lead in Douglas McGrath's Nicholas Nickleby, but if any film will give him a chance to really break out and raise a few eyes, it's this one. Hunnam's performance is natural, charismatic, and compelling, coming off as forceful without seeming like he's stretching to grab an out-of-reach Academy Award. Without breaking a sweat, he helps keep the story anchored to reality and goes through a whole range of emotions, from the angry pride exhibited during brawls with other firms to the personal dilemma he experiences when finding out about Matt being a journalism major ("journos" are viewed by hooligans as a lifeform slightly more respectable than a cow pie).
Hunnam's performance embodies the overall spirit of Green Street Hooligans. It emphasizes standing your ground and finding something worth throwing your complete being into -- while also acknowledging the consequences that come with a sacrifice that big. The film's rough-and-tumble fight scenes might make it seem like a low-grade action flick, but Green Street Hooligans is smarter than that, offering up a very compelling look at how firms operate as a collective and how easily those susceptible enough can be hooked into moving along with the pack. There are a couple of interruptions during the experience of absorbing the film; Wood's performance is a bit flatter than one would expect, Forlani is stuck with yet another "worrying wife/sister" part, and the main story becomes a smidge too predictable for its own good once in a while.
Still, Green Street Hooligans does an excellent job of staying on task for the bulk of its running time. What could have been a throwaway plot in lesser hands has now become a hidden gem, thanks to a dedicated cast and crew who have blessed the film with an air of realism, a gritty look, and a dramatic arc worth following. Although it received a very limited theatrical release, Green Street Hooligans has now hit DVD, and it's just waiting to be discovered by film fans for the intense and intriguing piece of work it is.
MY RATING: *** 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Warner Home Video and rated "R" for brutal violence, pervasive language and some drug use.)