Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Danny Dyer, Frank Harper, Tamer Hassan, Roland Manookian, Neil Maskell
Director: Nick Love
THE FOOTBALL FACTORY is based on Jon King’s dispassionate and stark novel about a cross-section of committed Chelsea football (soccer) hooligans, The Headhunters. Central character of both book and film is Tommy Johnston (Danny Dyer), a bored twenty-something who works in a flower retailers and lives for getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, and getting involved in organised violence. He and best mate Rod (Neil Maskell) are mentored by Billy Bright (Frank Harper): a family man in his forties Bright is also a pent-up ball of barely contained frustrations and anger liable to erupt at any given moment. He is always looking for someone to bear the brunt of his ire, even amongst his own gang, and invariably it is the youngest member of the firm, Zeberdee (Roland Manookian), who suffers the sharp recriminations of Bright’s tongue.
When Chelsea are handed a plum tie in the FA Cup draw (away at Millwall) it provides an opportunity for all of the main characters to prove something to themselves and each other. Bright will finally have the chance to do battle with his Millwall equivalent Jack (Tamer Hassan); for Zeberdee it is the chance to impress Bright by showing no fear against the ultimate opposition; Rod, by contrast, is seriously considering missing the ruck altogether to meet with his new girlfriend’s parents for the first time; and for Tommy the impending clash is wrought with uncertainty: his grandfather and brother are trying to persuade him to turn his back on the violence and their words are fortified by disturbing recurrent nightmares in which he is badly beaten and encounters a faceless youth whose identity he cannot unravel.
As with the book THE FOOTBALL FACTORY does not feature any actual football – nor does it contain any references of note to results or league tables. The sport is incidental; the conflict is everything. With such controversial subject matter, the film obviously has to be wary of accusations of glamorising the lifestyles of the protagonists and, to this end, there is very little physical violence actually seen on screen. However, the makers still leave themselves open to charges of incitement by creating exciting, energising set pieces out of the gang conflicts by using a combination of fast-moving camerawork (featuring jump cuts and rapid cutaways as boots and fists find their targets) generously laced with the amped-up OTT exertions of the sound effects, and setting it all to a pumping adrenalin-rush of a music soundtrack. Whilst writer/director Nick Love, I think, just manages to stay on the right side of glorifying the Headhunter’s antics, his film is let down in other areas by laziness. One scene where Tommy is cornered in a pub lavatory by a group of Millwall fans has a clumsily executed coda that could have easily been improved by five minutes of script massaging. Similarly, a scene where Billy and Jack come to blows whilst watching a child’s five-a-side game is at odds with the rest of the film because the realistic, rapid-fire, syllable-swallowing dialogue suddenly gives way to clear enunciation as if Love is particularly proud of this exchange of insults and wants to ensure that it is not lost on the audience. And don’t get me started on the appalling stereotypical depiction of Rod’s girlfriend’s parents as dull middle-class stuffed shirts with hollow lives.
THE FOOTBALL FACTORY is a hit and miss affair in which good performances and technical proficiency are soured by the unease one feels because of the maker’s apparent efforts to court favouritism with the hooligans: using them as consultants and extras and as rumour has it even laying on preview screenings for them, plus the film is releasing in the UK just as they are planning to go to war in Euro 2004.