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Hardcore Brit auds embrace tough Love

Nick Love is the closest thing Brit indie cinema has to a franchise.

The writer-director of “The Football Factory,” “The Business” and the upcoming vigilante drama “Outlaw,” he’s far from being the country’s best known or most acclaimed filmmaker. But it’s hard to think of one who has a more bankable following.

With his unique brand of violent, working-class actioners, he has carved himself a lucrative niche as the voice of a certain unfashionable — some might say unsavory — breed of young British male.

His disciples — most of whom probably have a Tony Montana T-shirt somewhere in their wardrobe — aren’t much for going out to the cinema, but they buy Love’s DVDs by the truckload. The hardcore will even pay to be in his movies.

Within the British film biz, Love is something of a renegade whose scripts have been routinely rejected by public financiers such as the U.K. Film Council, BBC Films and Film4. But the sheer weight of his DVD sales means he’s gradually being embraced by pragmatic distribs with a eye on the bottom line.

“He’s the U.K.’s answer to Luc Besson,” claims Rupert Preston of Vertigo Films, the production outfit in which Love is a partner. Besson’s output has always been scorned by French cineastes but lapped up by Gallic auds.

2004’s “Football Factory,” about soccer hooligans, was Love’s breakthrough. Privately financed by Vertigo, it cost less than $1 million and grossed a modest $1.3 million at the box office, but it has sold a staggering 970,000 units on DVD, comparable to a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The Business,” set among expat Brit villains on Spain’s Costa del Crime, grossed $3 million and has sold 510,000 DVDs so far. TV ratings for both were strong, ironically on the Film4 channel, whose sister production unit turned them down at script stage.

“Football Factory” was self-distributed by Vertigo. Pathe picked up “The Business” for U.K. distribution, then fully financed “Outlaw.” Now Fox Searchlight, via its British production venture DNA Films, is working with Love and Vertigo on a remake of ’70s cop show “The Sweeney.”

Yet “Outlaw,” due for release March 9, raises questions about how far Love can ever be absorbed into the mainstream. It’s a dark and uncomfortable piece of work, about a gang of vigilantes so traumatized by their experience of a country gone thoroughly to the dogs that they respond with ugly violence.

Unlike in his previous pics, there’s no humor here — just a brutish and paranoid vision ripped from the headlines of the right-wing tabloids, of an England where drug dealers and child molesters roam the streets unchecked by a corrupt police force and a cynical government, and the only question is what good men should do about it. Love’s regular Cockney leading man, Danny Dyer, summed up the prevailing mood by telling a newspaper recently that he favors the death penalty for “nonces” (pedophiles).

Love’s supporters argue there’s something refreshing about his rejection of the liberal consensus that underpins most subsidized British movies, and the way he unflinchingly reflects Blighty’s descent into yob culture. His detractors suggest he doesn’t just reflect it, but represents it.

Doubtless the movie will play to Love’s hardcore followers. Vertigo tried to tap their devotion with a stunt to raise finance for “Outlaw” by a form of direct subscription. In the end, 500 fans signed up to pay £100 ($195), in return for merchandise, regular email bulletins and the chance to appear as extras.

Unfortunately, the nightclub scene in which they were featured was cut from the final film. But at least they will be able to spot themselves in the deleted scenes on the DVD.

Since the “Outlaw” trailer went online a month ago, the Web site has had 2 million hits.

It’s hard to imagine Pathe’s civilized and decidedly unmacho toppers Francois Ivernel and Cameron McCracken mingling comfortably with Love’s audience, but Pathe certainly will be happy to take their money.

Love’s breakthrough into the mainstream might have to wait, however, until DNA and Fox get to grips with him on “The Sweeney.”

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