A young British soccer hooligan faces his personal Damascene moment in “The Football Factory,” a wannabe hard-hitting drama about Blighty’s best-known export that’s as pointless as the social disease it purports to examine. Made bearable by a blackly humorous streak and a couple of good performances, this cuss-filled slice of English self-loathing will appeal to a certain stratum of young male viewer but has little else going for it, either as cinema or drama, to score many goals with broader auds. Pic went out locally May 14.
As an examination of soccer hooliganism and its tribal psychology, film doesn’t hold a candle to an earlier Brit movie, Philip Davis’ “i.d.,” centered on London bobbies going undercover in the tough East End. Where Davis’ pic at least packed a punch in its portrayal of terrifying violence, “Factory” evokes little sense of fear or horror in the viewer. In fact, its closest parallel is more “Trainspotting,” though entirely void of that movie’s verbal and visual invention. Where “Trainspotting” was a drug-fueled cry against the conformity of ’80s Thatcherism, “Factory” is a violence-fueled yelp against the vacuousness of ’90s Blairism.
After a pumped-up main title of vid images of soccer hooliganism, pic intros Chelsea supporter Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer), bored and almost 30, who lives for the rush of drugs, sex and “occasionally kicking the fuck out of someone.” A brawl outside a pub led by middle-aged Billy Bright (Frank Harper) sets the tone, with exaggerated sound effects rather than bare-knuckle realism. “What else you gonna do on a Sat’day afternoon?” asks Tommy, in one of his several voiceovers.
Though the Chelsea “firm” (supporters’ gang) is technically run by Harris (Anthony Denham), Billy is the hero of its younger contingent, a middle-aged psycho with a nationalist chip on his shoulder and a sad personal life. Tommy idolizes Billy, and when Chelsea draws old rival Millwall in a league-cup game, the scene is set for him to prove himself as a potential leader. Unfortunately, since upsetting Millwall leader Fred (Tamer Hassan), Tommy has secretly been experiencing nightmares about being beaten to a pulp.
Into all this is stitched a parallel story focused on two oldies — Tommy’s grandfather, Bill (Dudley Sutton), who’s about to emigrate to sunny Australia with his childhood pal, Albert (John Junkin). There’s a rough poignancy to this plot strand that reflects the sense of disillusionment felt by many Brits for what the country has become, and the scenes between vets Sutton (who often played a young thug at the start of his career) and Junkin are among the best in the picture.
Script by Nick Love (“Goodbye Charlie Bright”) is based on the cult novel by John King, already turned into a stage play in 1998. Though the film keeps busy with an array of characters, B&W flashbacks and dream sequences, there’s insufficient motivation to sustain the characters onscreen for 90 minutes. Whenever the film settles down to concentrate on plot or development, it’s surprisingly conventional.
“We’re an island race, just love to fight,” opines Bill, in the closest the script ever gets to psychology. And Tommy’s closing voiceover when asked whether it was all worth it (” ‘Course it fuckin’ was!”) just about sums up the pic’s thesis, that violence is inculcated in kids by their parents and starts young. Period.
Dyer (Moff in “Human Traffic”) has considerable screen presence as Tommy but looks almost too wise to convince as a testosterone-fueled lout. Harper, a past master at playing cockney villains, is surprisingly soft. As ambitious young punk Zeberdee, and Tommy’s easygoing pal Rod, both Roland Manookian and Neil Maskell contrib convincing portraits. Jamie Foreman brings a light touch to the running joke of a racist cab driver.
Transfer from DV to widescreen 35mm results in suitably cool colors, with some blurring but hard edges.