Green Street Review
Green Street isn't really about football hooligans. It contains them but it isn't about them. Underneath its gritty pretensions, it's a macho Hollywood melodrama, one of those movies in which the soul-sick protaganist is adopted into a savage tribe who show him what's missing from his civilised life. You've seen this plot many times before, most recently in The Last Samurai and most famously in Dances With Wolves. Green Street borrows a lot from the Costner picture and more from Fight Club.
Curiously the word "hooligan" is never used - or if it was, I didn't catch it. The preferred term here is "firm", which refers to a gang of hooligans affiliated to a particular football team. The firm we get to know over the course of the film is the Green Street Elite. They're West Ham supporters led by Pete Denham (Charlie Hunnam) and their Saturdays revolve around drinking, watching the Hammers play and then beating the living shit out of the opposing team's own firm. Followed of course by more drinking. The Green Street Elite is an exclusive fraternity that does not welcome outsiders and the last person you would expect to see invited into its ranks is failed American student Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood).
Matt's in Britain visiting his sister and recovering from the shock of his expulsion from Harvard University after drugs were found in his room. The drugs actually belonged to his roommate but the roommate is from powerful, blue-blooded stock and Matt lacks the courage to stand up to him. Now he's in London and his sister happens to be married to Pete Denham's older brother. One afternoon, Pete is bribed to take Matt to a football match. He's reluctant to be burdened with this baseball-loving nerd but he discovers to his surprise that the Yank is all right. Even more of a surprise - to Matt as well as Pete - is that the lad can handle himself in a fight, as he proves when he's jumped by some rival hooligans. Soon enough, to his sister's horror, Matt is Pete's best friend and a full member of the Green Street Elite.
As a macho Hollywood melodrama, Green Street is not entirely unentertaining. It's directed with energy by Lexi Alexander, who also co-wrote, and the script has some wit to it. When Matt asks whether the rivalrly between West Ham and Millwall is like that of the Yankees and the Red Sox, Pete says it's more like the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The acting is generally decent too. Elijah Wood is surprisingly impressive. On paper it sounds ridiculous putting Frodo in a film about football hooliganism and I admit I laughed when I read about it but in fact Wood is perfect for the part of a shy, nerdy guy who discovers his inner thug. After his chilling serial killer in Sin City, maybe I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.
Charlie Hunnam on the other hand is far too much of a pretty boy to convince as hard man Pete, the leader of a firm. His look is pure Fight Club chic and he doesn't have a character as such, at least not a coherent one - he's just there to function as a dubious mentor for Matt. When we learn his profession - he teaches at a primary school - it gets a bad laugh. No doubt there are teachers who scuffle on the terraces but the film doesn't even come close to doing the work necessary to make us accept Pete as both.
It's exactly this lack of credibility that sinks Green Street. Details large and small keep ringing false and pulling us out of the film. Ridiculous overuse of Cockney rhyming slang. Birmingham fans who talk with London accents. A member of the firm who just happens to be standing outside the offices of The Times at exactly the right moment to get the wrong idea about Matt.
Right at the beginning, the movie is almost completely wrecked by three scenes of spectacular ineptitude First there's Matt's expulsion from Harvard, which is so unconvincing it looks like a scene from a 1980s campus comedy starring Judd Nelson. Then there's Pete's acceptance of Matt. That happens so quickly you wonder if there's footage missing. One moment Pete is threatening Matt with a beating, the next they're drinking together like pals. With one exception, the firm take to this Yank newcomer without hesitation. Unlikely.
The capper however is Matt's arrival in London. He gets off the Tube at Bank station, where his sister tells him there's been a battle between rival gangs of football supporters - who would naturally choose a location miles from any football ground and in a part of London crawling with anti-terrorist police. The pair walk off together, his sister pushing a pram, and in the next shot they're arriving in a posh West London square, which is obviously miles from Bank station, where Matt's sister invites him into the kind of flat Britney Spears might be considering if rumours of her moving here are true. The amazing thing is that Lexi Alexander is supposed to have lived in London and been a member of a hooligan firm.
Green Street has picked up some good notices abroad and at film festivals, which doesn't surprise me. It's a well-made film with a lot of good qualities. If you have absolutely no knowledge of British culture or of football hooliganism, I can see how it could convince you it knows what it's talking about. It also doesn't surprise me that the British reviews have been universally bad. We can see right through it.
The other thing that rankles about Green Street is its attitude to hooligans. It doesn't just glorify them, it mythologises them. That's excusable in The Last Samurai but these aren't Samurai, they're football thugs. "Stand your ground" is Green Street's advertising slogan and it's also the film's message. Matt learns to stand up for himself, be confident and be a man by being a hoolie. I'm old enough and politically incorrect enough to appreciate a film espousing good, old-fashioned, John Wayne values but since when do football hooligans represent such values? The Green Street Elite don't "stand their ground", they go out actively looking for fights. That's a pretty important distinction. Football hooligans don't fight for a cause or because they have to, they fight because they enjoy fighting. I have no objection to a film showing hooliganism from the point of view of the hooligan but let's at least be honest about why they behave as they do and let's not pretend there's anything noble about it.
So unquestioning is Green Street about its heroes' actions that when tragedy eventually creeps into the picture, it's the fault of a bad football hooligan who threatens the good hooligans' lives and those of their families. This is another steal from Dances With Wolves. Remember the scary Pawnee warrior played by Wes Studi? Here we get a scary Millwall fan played by Geoff Bell, who has a personal grudge against the Green Street Elite. Bell is excellent, as he was in The Business, but his character is a cop-out. Scratch that, the whole film is a cop-out. Real hooligans are going to laugh at it. Most other viewers will shake their heads in disbelief.