By Peter Lowry | January 1, 2004

Regardless of the sport, there are moments in each one where fans take out the frustration of a loss or even the celebration of a victory to extremes as they spill into the streets to do a little damage. We see it on the news all the time, and scratch our head thinking what complete morons they have to be to take a game that friggin’ seriously. Not only does it happen in North America, but it also happens quite a bit in Europe as this film tries to portray. Based on the novel by John King, it’s a stirring piece of work is gives a grim and very sobering analysis of football violence and male culture that apparently still goes on in England. Combined with some inspired direction and some top notch performances, I was taken aback by ‘The Football Factory’ and would recommend it to any sports fan who is interesting in checking out something that is not only vicious, but has some light hearted moments and some fine character acting in it as well. It’s a stirring film that while no where near the best hooligan film I’ve ever seen, ranks up there as it’s quality is tip top.

While I’ve never had a chance to read the book this film is based on but that really doesn’t matter. I actually enjoy watching it more before reading the books they’re based on because I don’t really know what to expect and end up enjoying the movie a lot more. I was basically hooked in the first ten minutes, as the loud music and brutal violence was only topped by the characters who took part as we were introduced to layers of characters from varied generations as they try their best to cope with different stages of life. The film centers around a group of Chelsea FC hooligans who seem to enjoy organizing like a pack of wolves to eventually reign down on a group of wankers who don’t support the same team they do. It follows this group as they march forward towards an enormous showdown with their most hated rivals from Millwall.

A great deal of the story seems to follow one young fellow named Tommy Johnson, a rebellious young man approaching his thirties at a blinding speed. He likes to hang out with his friends and fellow Chelsea hooligans, for wild weekends of casual sex, heavy drugs, watered down pints and occasionally beating the complete f**k out of someone. But Tommy seems to be coming to a crossroad, as he begins to question what he’s doing and if any of it is worth the effort. Danny Dyer pulls an impressive performance as the troubled and conflicted young man, as the men he looks up to pull him in different directions. One is a wise old war veteran that truly has good intentions, while the other is a seriously disturbed jackoff who while friendly and a good buddy is a bad influence as he promotes and provokes many of the violent incidents that occur. It was interesting to watch Tommy as his conflicted soul took a needed moment to figure out whether he wants to continue his dangerous ‘hobby’.

Another stand out in the cast was Frank Harper, who many will (and should) recognize as the Dog from ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Harper is flat out brilliant as Billy Bright, the violent influence in Tommy’s life that has no fear and is a completely psychotic son-of-a-bitch. Harper literally stole most of if not every scene he was in, taking control of the film and pushing everyone out with what I think is one of his best performances, ever. His performance is so freaky that you actually begin to fear his character to the point where you’d never want to meet that bastard in a dark ally. Harper’s brilliant showing provided a lot of humor as well as reflection as we all know that would be Tommy’s future should he choose to continue being a hooligan with the rest of his mates. The fans of his previous work will absolutely love him in this film as he’s all attitude and then some.

Kudos to director/writer Nick Love for making what I truly think is a great sports film that managed to show literally not a single shot about the game the fans were fighting over. Not only do I appreciate the fact that the violence wasn’t taken too much over the top, I was pleased to see that most of the rough stuff was paced and never put into overkill mode. He showed us just enough to be disturbed at the beginning to at least give us a taste of what is to come, but then moves away from the action to focus on the characters and how they all banded together to fight for Chelsea FC against the other lot of losers who do the same for the other crappy teams. It was nicely shot as well, as there were some scenes that had a truly defining moment… such as the part when Tommy is lying down in a pool of his own blood and you can still see the chaos going on in the background beyond the silhouette of his batter body. Such shots are both unsettling but powerful as it clearly gives focus to the real issue of the film, which was the obsessive nature of the fans who fought each other over a game they never took part in. It was a well made and edited film that left an impression and is one of the better films to come out this year.

Overall, ‘The Football Factory’ is an entertaining piece of film that would make a nice addition to any sports fan’s film collection. With a high standard of acting and characters that really stand out, the film manages to be more than just another film about people kicking the complete crap out of one another. It’s a definite must see for football fans, and even for those who are not a fan of the English leagues. Although there are other hooligan film such as ‘The Firm’ and ‘ID’, this film while not as good is still up there in quality as it has the character and the rough stuff to give everyone a little bit to make them all go home happy. This film also relates closer to what might be the present day of football hooliganism, which is both fascinating and disturbing to watch all at the same time. It was a film that surprised the hell out of me, and I recommend it to those who are looking for something different and against the grain of the usual Hollywood clout.

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