×

Green Street Hooligans

Unvarnished verisimilitude, visceral impact and vividly evoked emotional and physical extremes distinguish "Hooligans," the impressive debut feature by German-born helmer Lexi Alexander. The hype machinery will doubtless be fueled by the novelty of a woman directing an intense, unblinkingly violent drama about rabid soccer fans viciously clashing in the streets of London.

With:
Matt Buckner - Elijah Wood Pete Dunham - Charlie Hunnam Shannon Dunham - Claire Forlani Steve Dunham - Marc Warren Bovver - Leo Gregory Carl Buckner - Henry Goodman Tommy Hatcher - Geoff Bell Swill - Rafe Spall Ike - Kieran Bew Dave - Ross McCall Ned - Francis Pope Keith - Christopher Hehir Jeremy Van Holden - Terence Jay

This review was updated on March 16, 2005.

Unvarnished verisimilitude, visceral impact and vividly evoked emotional and physical extremes distinguish “Hooligans,” the impressive debut feature by German-born helmer Lexi Alexander. The hype machinery will doubtless be fueled by the novelty of a woman directing an intense, unblinkingly violent drama about rabid soccer fans viciously clashing in the streets of London. (This particular woman is a former World Kickboxing champ, a fact that will likely loom large in the press coverage.) Still, drama will require special handling (and imaginative selling) to click in theatrical and homevid venues with U.S. auds whose interest in the sport is less than rabid.

“Hooligans” won both the grand jury prize and the audience award for feature at SXSW — the first time in fest history that both awards have gone to same pic.

Alexander cleverly makes a running gag of American attitudes about Brit football while using a Yank as p.o.v. protag to guide aud through possibly unfamiliar territory. In the scenario the helmer co-wrote with Dougie Brimson and Josh Shelov, ace journalism student Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) is kicked out of Harvard weeks before graduation when his roommate, scion of a wealthy political clan, frames him to take the fall for cocaine found in their dorm suite.

Matt flies to London to visit expat sister Shannon (Claire Forlani), who’s married to devoted yet moody Steve Dunham (Marc Warren). But Matt arrives at an inopportune time, so he’s temporarily passed off to Steve’s boisterous brother, Pete (Charlie Hunnam of Douglas McGrath’s “Nicholas Nickleby”), who’s frankly hostile to unwelcome Yank visitors.

Begrudgingly respectful of Matt’s attempt to rebuff his intimidating tactics, however, Pete decides to take the tourist under his wing. He introduces Matt to his friends, fellow members of the GSE — Green Street Elite — the fan-comprised “firm” that loyally supports the West Ham football team. (Under no circumstances, Pete warns Matt, should the Yank ever use the word “soccer.”)

Matt proves to be an unexpectedly tenacious (albeit inexperienced) fighter when the GSE takes on thugs from an opposing firm.That’s more than enough to ingratiate Matt with the GSE members.

However, when the instinctively suspicious Bovver (Leo Gregory) uncovers evidence suggesting Matt may be an undercover journalist, he betrays the Yank and the entire GSE to Tommy Hatcher (Geoff Bell), a rival firm boss with a long-standing beef against Pete’s family.

Evidencing a no-B.S. approach to hand-to-hand (and brick-to-head) mayhem that’s unusual in this era of ever-increasing CGI body counts, Alexander dares to present a type of movie violence that’s all the more unsettling for its blunt-force simplicity. She walks a fine line between honest dramatization and cynical exploitation, all the while acknowledging that, like it or not, there’s something undeniably exhilarating about kicking ass.

“Hooligans” owes a great deal to “The Firm,” the late Alan Clarke’s near-legendary 1988 pic starring Gary Oldman in a career highlight perf as an increasingly violent football fan. But Alexander repays the debt by never shying away from showing how even seemingly civilized men can become animalistic while hunting in packs.

Wood is burdened with some of the pic’s most tin-eared, over-emphatic dialogue — script could have used at least one more rewrite to scrape away the more obvious cliches — and he lays on the moist-eyed innocence a tad too thickly in early scenes. But he’s very adept at rendering Matt’s evolution during his slow, steady immersion into a culture of violence.

Often resembling Brad Pitt’s younger, more pissed-off sibling, Hunnam hits the perfect balance of authority and anarchy, low cunning and instinctive decency. For all his madcap brawling and bad-boy attitude, he has more than sufficient gravitas to banish a traitor from the firm with a succinct command — “Go away!” — and make it sound like the sudden judgment of an angry god.

In key supporting roles, Warren and Bell score with forceful portrayals, and Forlani breathes fresh life into the stock role of a woman who wants her man to stop scuffling with other folks. Gregory memorably limns all aspects of a character who’s equal parts Iago, Judas Iscariot and Jedediah Leland. Lenser Alexander Buono and editor Paul Trejo make violent sequences crackle with a genuinely terrifying anything-can-happen excitement.

Regardless of how “Hooligans” fares, pic amply demonstrates that Alexander — director of “Johnny Flynton,” 2003 Oscar nominee for dramatic short — has the chops to bring a fresh take to onscreen rough stuff. Hollywood will beckon.

Popular on Variety

Green Street Hooligans

Production: An Odd Lot Entertainment production. Produced by Gigi Pritzker, Deborah Del Prete, Donald Zuckman. Executive producers, Lexi Alexander, Bill Allen, Patrick Aluise, Paul Schiff. Directed by Lexi Alexander. Screenplay, Alexander, Dougie Brimson, Josh Shelov.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Alexander Buono; editor, Paul Trejo; music, Christopher Franke; production designer, Tom Brown; art director, Ricky Eyres; set decorator, Sara Wan; sound (Dolby Digital), Les Honess; associate producer, Jon S. Baird; assistant director, Mark Egerton. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival (competing), March 12, 2005. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: Matt Buckner - Elijah Wood Pete Dunham - Charlie Hunnam Shannon Dunham - Claire Forlani Steve Dunham - Marc Warren Bovver - Leo Gregory Carl Buckner - Henry Goodman Tommy Hatcher - Geoff Bell Swill - Rafe Spall Ike - Kieran Bew Dave - Ross McCall Ned - Francis Pope Keith - Christopher Hehir Jeremy Van Holden - Terence Jay

More Film

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content