' Cinema Romantico: Green Street Hooligans

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Green Street Hooligans

In the wake of America being awarded the 1994 World Cup an Iowan sportswriter opinined as to which host city would be best equipped to handle the traditionally turbulent British football fans. In the end, he decided, the city where I live, Chicago, is the only one that could have stood up to them. Now, as it turned out, England didn't even qualify for the 1994 Cup but nevertheless....the question was intriguing. After living here for five years do I agree with this take? Well, I think the South Side could definitely go toe-to-toe but, no offense, North Siders, can you imagine football hooligans marching up and down tony Clark Street? Better yet, can you imagine the drunken young man on Addison who yelled at myself and my friends from above his porch as we passed below last Fourth Of July weekend yelling at football hooligans? He would not have seen the sunrise again.

With the latest World Cup, and the historic U.S./England match, looming, I decided to get myself in the mood by Netflixing a film I'd been curious to see since its 2005 release, Lexi Alexander's "Green Street Hooligans", detailing a young American wannabe journalist named Matt Buckner (Elijah Wood) who has just been expelled from Harvard after taking the fall for his cocaine-hoarding roommate and who travels across the pond to visit his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani) who has settled down in London with her husband Steve (Marc Warren) and their young son.

Almost instantly upon Matt's arrival, revealing right away the rather lazy narrative the screenplay will continue to employ, Steve's football hooligan brother Pete (a convincing Charlie Hunnam) turns up at which point, because of a planned romantic night, Steve gives Matt some money and shoves he and Pete out the door to a football match.

Now....is this really the course of action Steve would take? When Steve's "secret", dredged up later in the film, becomes known it makes this initial jumping off point for the film's story absolutely impossible to buy. The character of Steve, once all things are considered, simply would not have sent Matt off with his brother and no argument otherwise can be made. The filmmakers were so desperate for a Reveal they forgot their Reveal negated the Set Up.

But, you know, whatever must be done to get Matt where he needs to go, which is into the world of the Green Street Elite, a "firm" that does not so much support its team, West Ham, as use it as a handy excuse to make like a much more public Fight Club and assault rival "firms". Their home base is a pub where pints flow freely and Pete indoctrinates Matt into this violent world as all seem accepting except for the obligatory shifty, Yank-despising weasel, Bower (Leo Gregory), who negotiates with the Green Street Elite's notorious nemesis, the Millwall firm, spearheaded by Tommy Hatcher (Geoff Bell), whose history goes mighty deep with his sworn enemies. Things take an irrevocable turn for the worse when Bower spies Matt entering....The Times building! Which convinces Bower that Matt is undercover journalist!

Again, we find the film's over-reliance on coincidence. The only reason Matt enters that building is because his dad, as he must, has visited after Shannon has informed him Matt was expelled and Matt's dad says he can get him a job, which Matt doesn't even necessarily want, but his dad insists and so they enter the building right as Bower happens to be nearby. The fate of your film can't rest on this sort of plot point. You cannot let the audience see the strings being used to control the characters.

From here the story tries to get hefty like a Shakespearean tragedy as more skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboard, only to watch as it sinks swiftly under this supposed heftiness as we find Matt running to the final showdown like the jilted lover to the airport as the conclusion then becomes completely dependent on a jaw-droppingly awful decision made by Shannon that, again, to belabor the point, this character, as presented for the film's duration, would not have made.

All the story breakdowns are a shame because, I suppose, in a way "Green Street Hooligans" still effectively made its point to me. If I'd been Matt I never would made it past the first act. One fight and I'd be back on a plane for America to re-invest in college football. There may be hate in my nation's greatest sport but it's a respectful hate, even in its biggest rivalry. There may be an Ohio State supporting punk band called The Dead Shembechlers (named after ex Michigan Football Coach Bo Shembechler) that hates it rival Wolverines so much it has songs entitled "Michigan Stadium Is A Pile Of S---" and "I Peed In Ann Arbor's Water Supply" but on the day the man who gave them their namesake passed away the band, at a "Hate Michigan" rally that night, had a moment of silence for the deceased coach and donated all proceeds from the rally to the charity of the Shembechler Family's choosing.

I shudder to think what the Green Street Elite would have done.

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