BE CAREFUL what you wish for. When reviewing nasty, dubious Nick Love films such as The Football Factory or The Business, too many of us mused that, if Love was so interested in the dynamics of male violence, he might like to have a look at Alan Clarke’s untouchable The Firm.
Well, Love has now taken it upon himself to adapt that 1988 TV movie, and the results are predictably depressing.
Featuring Gary Oldman as the leader of a group of east London football hooligans, Clarke’s original invited the viewer to be led astray by the lead’s charisma and gain some uneasy understanding of his squalid pastime. In contrast, Love lavishes most of his attention on the accumulation of period detail, affected argot and broad humour. The characters are too thinly drawn. The motivations are too vague. In short, the new film is not good enough even to be regarded as irresponsible.
Taking its queue from GoodFellas as much as from the BBC original, The Firm details the corruption of a reasonable young Eastender named Dominic. After getting in a minor scuffle with Bex, an estate agent who leads a particularly vicious hooligan firm, the teenager returns to apologise and gets recruited as a foot soldier. A predictable arc then leads him from enthusiasm to dissolution to disgust.
It’s not all bad. Calum McNab is quite touching as the corrupted youth, and Eddie Webber and Camille Coduri, both reliable character actors, radiate pie- and-mash goodwill as the hero’s decent Cockney parents. But the overpowering 1980s colour – folk are always singing along to Soft Cell – fast become preposterous, and the sub-Clockwork Orange inner-city slang never seems plausible.
Worst of all, Paul Anderson is woefully underpowered as the supposedly Mephistophelean Bex. Oldman was so charged with demonic energy you felt you could follow him onto the shore at Gallipoli and smile while doing it. You wouldn’t accept directions to the garage from this Bex.