I’ve got a creative writing book somewhere that I bought on a whim that’s hardly been touched.
The only bit I remember reading before the book was put to use as a doorstop was to do with reviewing. It said something along the lines that a good critic should never have a prejudged opinion on what they are reviewing as it will almost definitely cloud the review.
I’m not sure how true that is, but I have to admit, dear reader, that I went into The Firm already knowing that I was going to hate it. And you know what? It feels good to be proved wrong once in a while.
Before you start heckling me with rotten tomatoes and the like, let me explain my position. The Firm is directed by Nick Love, who is a director I have nearly always slated. His first film, Goodbye Charlie Bright, was a decent debut that showed a promising young director. Since then, though, his films have, in my opinion, been on a sliding scale of shitness that culminated in his last film Outlaw, a vigilante film of such kneejeck reactionary ideas it was pretty much offensive to watch.
It’s not that he’s an incompetent director on a par with, say, Uwe Boll. Just that his films are seemingly aimed at the Zoo / Nuts crowd. That’s the scene that I left Blackpool to escape. Also the majority of his films star Danny Dyer, who is to cinema what the Luffewaffe were to Coventry.
To hear that his new flick was to be remake of Alan Clarke’s excellent late 80s TV film, The Firm left me with dread. The original dealt with the football firms that took prominence in the 70s and 80s and starred a young Gary Oldman as Bex, the leader of the firm. As well as football hooliganism, the film also touched on the politics of Thatcher’s Britain.
Going on Love’s track record for simplistic morality and glorifying violence, the signs were not looking good in my eyes. Well, ignore his last three films because The Firm is a natural successor to the promise Love showed in Goodbye Charlie Bright.
Love’s version of The Firm runs along the same lines as Clarke’s original, as we’re introduced to Bex and his duel life as successful estate agent and loving family man who also happens to be the leader of a West Ham firm of football hooligans. The main difference in Love’s story is that, instead of Bex being the central character, we now see the world through the eyes of Dom, a teenager growing up in the 80s. By using Dom (a minor character in the original) as the audience’s perspective, we lose the political edge of Clarke’s film, but gain a coming of age story more in the vein of Shane Meadows’ This Is England.
After a run in with Bex in a nightclub, Dom is taken under his wing and thinks he finds an identity with the firm. He’s introduced to the casual fashions that symbolised the 1980s football crowd and gets involved in Bex’s rivalry with the Millwall firm, specifically, its leader Yeti. Eventually, as the violence starts to escalate, Dom starts to realise this may not be the life for him after all.
Whilst I was watching The Firm, I found it hard to believe that it was made by the same guy who was behind Outlaw. With the gratuitous violence that was on show in that film and questionable morality in his other films, including his first attempt at dealing with football hooliganism in 2004’s The Football Factory, I just jumped to the conclusion that he would be as heavy handed dealing with the topics in The Firm. Instead, as in Goodbye Charlie Bright, he shows a much more restrained and sensible side that possibly shows his growing up as a filmmaker.
He’s helped by the cast in the film, which is automatically his best yet for the distinct lack of Danny Dyer. Calum McNab as Dom and Paul Anderson as Bex take the majority of the plaudits as they are rarely off screen. Anderson, in particular, stands out in a very tricky role. He is not Gary Oldman (which I don’t mean as an insult, as not many people are) but brings an intensity to the role of Bex that shows he could be one to watch in the not too far future. It would be a shame if he got typecast in the same sorts of roles as I would like to see what else he could do. By taking away the political side of his character, he does get slightly less to work with as his motives are not as explicit as in Oldman’s Bex. Also, as the leader of firm rival, Yeti, is Daniel Mays, who could be one of the top young British actors around. Just watch his turn in the amazing three part series Red Riding.
Although I keep referencing Alan Clarke’s original, it’s not really fair to compare them, as they are different beasts. That being said, though, there are two things that Love improves on the original. That’s the fashion and the fight scenes. In Clarke’s film, the characters are mostly dressed in their suits and work clothes, possibly to emphasise the rise of Thatcher’s yuppie culture hooligans. Love, on the other hand, goes for the casual sportswear fashion of the early 80s. The amount of Fila, Adidas, Ellesse and Sergio Tacchini on display is truly mouth watering, and from watching the DVD extra ‘making of’, is something Love brings from his own teenage years.
The fight scenes were the weakest area of the original film as there were only usually no more than ten people fighting at any one time. In the 2009 film, the fight scenes are a stand out. Full crowds of people now face off against each other, filmed with a real intensity. They are chaotic, brutal, but never gratuitous or glamorised. Love shows a real eye in the clever shots that really put you in amongst the fighting.
A slight mention has to go to the soundtrack that really pulls out some classic 80s tunes, that, if my knowledge serves me right, some may not have yet existed during the time the films set. I’m going to forgive because a) they’re great tunes that really fit the mood of the film and b) it’s my review, nah nah nah.
Even though I seem to be having a bit of a Love (no pun intended) in with The Firm, not everything is perfect. As I mentioned earlier, by focusing more on Dom, Bex’s back story gets less of a fleshing out. There are fewer scenes that show his family life and the conflict his fighting brings his wife. These scenes are lost to give more time to Dom’s family life, which offers the heart of the film, but brings another slight complaint I have. There are scenes in the film where Dom is brought into conflict between the two father figures in his life, Bex and, err, well, his dad. I would really have liked to have seen more of this conflict in a sort of Wall Street or This Is England way.
Also, and this is real personal one, the film, as all Nick Love’s are, deals with proper cockney characters. As a dyed in the wool born and bred northerner who lived down south for eight months before running back tail between my legs, the cockney accent does get a little annoying in the film. But, as I said before, this is a personal one and probably not a valid criticism.
After watching The Firm I’ve definitely learnt not to judge a book by its cover. If you’ve been putting off seeing the film just because of Nick Love’s track record, I can say now that this is a far superior film than you’d be expecting. Like Goodbye Charlie Bright it shows that, if he has a real personal love and history for the subject, then he can pull out a really good film. I now eagerly await his next film, and I never thought I’d say that.
This is more of a case of quality not quantity. There are only two features but they are both golden. There’s a ‘making of’ that covers pretty much everything a making of should do, but praise has to go to the commentary that (and this is a statement that may come back to bite me ,but am standing up for) the best I’ve ever heard. It involves Love, Anderson and technical consultant Lee Jackson.
If anyone can offer a more profanity-filled commentary I bow down to you, as the amount of ‘C’ words spouted is truly memorable. Stories such as the cast and crew “noshing” on each other, along with the swearing, lifts the commentary into an almost Derek and Clive level of awesomeness. Plus, they call my most hated critic, Christopher Tookey, a nonce. Wonderful stuff.
The Firm is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.