A considerable amount of talent is on show in the powerful but distinctly unedifying soccer hooligan drama “Awaydays.” Succinctly scripted by Kevin Sampson from his own 1998 novel, though ditching its dry, observational humor in favor of unrelenting cussing and bleakness, pic blends a striking evocation of 1979 Merseyside delinquency with a more intimate tale of an edgy friendship between two young thrill-seekers. Hardly a pleasant night out at the movies, this looks like following most other similar Britpics (“Cass,” “The Football Factory”) to focused local returns and resilient ancillary.
Carty (Nicky Bell), 19, is a seemingly well-brought-up lad who lives with his dad (Ged McKenna) and younger sister, Molly (Holliday Grainger, good), and whiles away the hours at his indulgent uncle’s (Ian Puleston-Davies) firm. Secretly, however, Carty is in thrall to soccer-fan gangs, in particular the Pack, run by John Godden (Stephen Graham).
After meeting one of its members, Mark “Elvis” Elways (Liam Boyle), in a cellar club, Carty is finally accepted into the Pack. Even though Elvis keeps reminding him, “You don’t belong there,” Carty wins his spurs in a vicious fight with a rival gang.
From its weak, rather grubby color processing to the pinpoint accuracy of its so-called “casual” fashions — a Liverpool-led revival of the mod culture of the ’60s — pic unerringly nails the look of the period. Plentiful use of music of the time (by bands like Ultravox and Joy Division) undercores the atmospheric package, with helming by Pat Holden (including tips of the hat to “A Clockwork Orange”) that’s as tight as a drum.
However, just as the game of soccer (or any discussion about it) is never shown, Samson’s script never gets inside the heads of its characters — especially Carty’s — to explain their primal drives, or to link the phenom to the larger social/political background of Thatcherite Britain.
As the story progresses, with Molly trying to get Carty to quit the Pack and Elvis blowing hot and cold toward his newfound pal, the film doesn’t become much more than a catalog of escalating hooliganism in which the participants simply get off on a good fight.
Subplot of Carty’s selfish treatment of his sister, and his revenge on a rugby jock (Tom Cottle) who knocks her around, provides some marginal structure. So, too, the growing thread of Elvis’ unacknowledged gay attraction to Carty, though this tips more into tragic cliche near the end.
Bell is terrific as Carty, with a feral look to his eyes that explodes into sheer animal bloodlust in the punch-ups, and Boyle shares good chemistry with him as the cranky but equally psychotic Elvis. Other roles are expertly cast, from Graham’s sinister gang leader to Oliver Lee as the vicious Baby. Thick Scouse accents render much of the dialogue impenetrable.