The Firm

Director    Nick Love
Starring    Daniel Mays, Paul Anderson, Calum McNab, Doug Allen, Joanne Matthews, Eddie Webber
Release    TBC (US) 18 SEP (UK)    Certificate 18
2 stars


14th September 2009

"We come in peace, we leave you in pieces," says Gary Oldman's Bex in the 1988 original version of The Firm, and you believed it. Oldman played the vicious character in this made-for-TV movie with such the right degree of humour and venom that it still remains one of his best performances.

He owns the role throughout and, as dated as the film now appears, Oldman is still captivating. So here's the question: how do you remake a Gary Oldman movie without Gary Oldman?

Well, if you're Nick Love, the man behind such Danny Dyer (cockney geezah) showcasers as The Football Factory and The Business, you make Bex take a back seat and retell the story from one of the other character's perspectives.

Still set firmly in the '80s, this remake chooses to follow the story of young-and-cocky Dom (Calum McNab) who, after an altercation with Bex (Paul Anderson) in a night club, becomes mesmerised by his reputation and embroiled in the activities of Bex's ICF gang.

[gallery]The ICF (Inter City Firm) is a mob of violent West Ham fans that show their support by clashing with the firms of their weekly opponents. However, when Bex suggests to the bosses of the rival firms that they should all team up for the coming international matches, the clashes between the gangs get worse as they vie for ultimate leadership.

Viewers would be mistaken if they watched this film expecting it to represent an era of football itself. Just as in the original, we are not treated to any actual sight of the beautiful game being played professionally - this film concentrates squarely on the violence.

Forget too, the image of beer-swilling hooligans rampaging through the streets - these are cold and pre-meditated attacks. Bex even chastises his fellow firm members for drinking too much alcohol, choosing to drink "R Whites" himself. With the kind of mentality that starts fight clubs, he is just keen to get stuck into the next battle, and in a film about football hooliganism, the football is non-existent.

It's a shame then that the brawls themselves are just messy affairs on screen. Placing a shaky camera in the middle of a group street fight may give the viewer the very real sense of the chaos and disorientation involved, but here it seems to be masking the fact that the scenes are underplayed and under-rehearsed.

It's as though, if the camera were allowed to capture the whole picture, the spectacle of 60 men shoving each other and shouting "cuuunt" would appear more ridiculous than shocking.

The set up of each "meet" is also frustratingly routine. "Let's go to Portsmouth, their boozer is around here somewhere...there they are! Get 'em!" and cue more shaky camera action...every time.

That, however, is not the main problem with the film. With all its attempts to capture the '80s period, the story itself falls flat and feels rather redundant.

The original film was genuinely shocking, not only in its gritty portrayal of the wincingly realistic hooligan brutality, but also in its success at highlighting an issue that was relevant at the time - the post-punk Thatcher era which resulted in grown men in steady jobs (like estate agent Bex) desiring to lash out at something.

With the neon lights and clean-cut tracksuits being a far cry from Alan Clarke's original vision, this feels like a very different '80s altogether and, coming after more recent hooligan films like Green Street and Nick Love's own The Football Factory, the film is rather impotent by comparison.

Where Love fails as a director though, he succeeds with his script, documenting the fall of Bex's character through Dom's eyes with subtlety whilst also providing choice dialogue and often very funny exchanges. He also pays due credit to the 1988 film by keeping its more memorable scenes, paying homage to them rather than trying to better them and never feeling self-referential or over-indulgent.

He does well, too, in casting Paul Anderson as Bex, who thankfully doesn't attempt to mimic Oldman in the role, but still outshines everyone else in the cast. In a film where the acting can seem quite stilted, especially with those younger members of the cast (even the lead, Calum McNab), Anderson steals every scene, playing the role with less humanity than Oldman, yet providing the right mix of intimidation and pathetic obsession.

So, while it's a shame that the film pulls its punches when it needs them most, the comedic elements in the script make this movie a different kind of beast to it's predecessor, and still makes it worthwhile viewing. It just seems like a missed opportunity to have the audience, rather than the victims on screen, in stitches.

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