Film review: The Firm

by Peter Sherlock NICK Love must appreciate the irony. The director reinvents the British cockney ard man flick with a stirring, heartfelt examination of football hooligan

by Peter Sherlock

NICK Love must appreciate the irony. The director reinvents the British cockney 'ard man flick with a stirring, heartfelt examination of football hooliganism in the early 1980s.

Just weeks before it was set to hit our screens, West Ham and Millwall fans started beating seven bells out of each other during a depressing night of terrace violence at Upton Park.

It was terrible timing for the 39-year-old director, who has loosely remade Allan Clark's 1988 TV film, The Firm, for the big screen, starring newcomers Calum Macnab (Dom) and Paul Anderson (Bex).

Straightaway, Love risks being cast as a throwback to those troubled times - a wannabe geezer who thinks football violence is a bit of a laugh when all is said and done.

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That could not be further from the truth. His film is a deeply moving coming-of-age story, which has more in common with Shane Meadows' widely-praised This is England than Guy Ritchie's gangster fables.

The story centres on Dom, a young wannabe football casual, who gets drawn into the charismatic world of the firm's top boy, Bex.

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Dom, a dead ringer for a young Steven Gerrard, is accepted for his fast mouth and sense of humour and soon becomes one of the boys.

The Firm will no doubt be accused of glorifying violence.

In truth, Love does not excuse hooliganism - but presents us with a charming character in Dom, whose desire to be a part of the gang is more about friendship and acceptance than the violence itself.

Dom is sensitive, playful and mouthy, with a touching relationship with his ultra-patient parents, yet he is bored of standing on windswept, crumbling housing estates smoking dope.

He idolises the psychotic sadist, Bex, and begs his parents for cash so he can snap up the unofficial uniform of the football casual, the vintage Sergio Tacchini tracksuits and Adidas trainers.

One heart-wrenching scene sees him proudly walk into a packed pub wearing his new garb only to find Bex wearing the same outfit. Dom, faced with a barrage of abuse, stares at the floor, disconsolate.

Macnab superbly slips from cocksure to vulnerable as his dangerous lifestyle spirals out of control. Anderson's performance as Bex is equally good and competes with Robert Carlisle's Begby for sheer hard-as-nails lunacy.

Violence and the threat of violence permeate the film's taut and gripping 90 minutes. It is very stylish and propelled along with a pounding 1980s' funk soundtrack.

When first hearing of the project, my heat sank. I imagined Jason Statham and Danny Dyer shouting at each other in rhyming cockney slang.

I was totally wrong. The Firm turned out to be the best British film of the year so far.

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