It’s no mystery why the critically acclaimed UK flick Hooligans refuses to catch a break with the big Hollywood powerhouses. Snagging multiple awards at US film festivals (Malibu and South by Southwest included) and showing a solid audience at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Hooligans, with it’s incredibly engaging, unique and violent subject matter, is a surefire crowd-pleaser. However, no true American would enjoy watching British lads pick beat up a Harvard yank after a match of what us Westerners call “soccer”, now would they? Hooligans, directed by Lexi Alexander, not only brings audiences into the world of competitive UK football, but also poses important arguments over the value of brotherhood and the lengths at which one would go to remain a part of it.
Hooligans begins where Matt Buckman’s college career ends. Buckman (Elijah Wood), editor of the Harvard newspaper and typical New England overachiever, is caught in a fictitious drug scandal staged in order to keep rich and snobby roommate Jeremy Van Holden, (Terence Jay) out of trouble. Just shy of getting his degree and without a place to truly call home, Buckman flies oversees to join his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani) and her family. Shannon’s husband Steve has important plans for the evening and, although hesitant, leaves little Matt in the hands of brother Pete Dunham (Charlie Hunnam). As the full-time leader of team United’s Green Street Elite, a gang that UK “football” teams call “firms”, Pete wants nothing to do with the yank but following his brother’s orders and takes Matt out to his first football match. A bunch of broken bottles and bloody lips later, Buckman is hooked and wants in. The only problem? His hobby as a journalist and his American skin-- both of which could potentially bring the GSE out from the shadows and cause tremendous turmoil.
Hooligans is not only Matt Buckman’s story, but the story of female director Alexander. It’s almost ironic that the gruesome and barbaric subworld that is the backdrop to this film is so well documented by a woman. Alexander grew up in Germany with a brother who was an active member of a firm. The stories she lived and the tales he told make for the inspiration in this film.
Knowing that Hooligans is crafted from autobiographic material makes the characters’ relationships in the film even more real and touching. There is a working balance between the graphic frame-by-frame fight scenes and the dialogue development between the actors onscreen. Dunham and Buckman are related through blood, but also through the GSE. Their bond is tangible; and as Dunham invites Buckman into the firm, problems develop between the group. Shannon and Steve’s love is tested when his involvement in the GSE comes full circle- haunting the fate of his new family.
Although Hooligans is a film about football fanatics that go over the edge, Alexander creates characters that are much more three-dimensional than your classic villain. In doing so, the message she strives to tell is unclear: is Hooligans a cautionary story or does Alexander’s personal history lend for an understanding and acceptance of the firm subculture?
As long as Hooligans continues its circulation across the globe (release dates are set for fall of 2005 in parts of Europe), more and more Americans will latch on to its infectious spirit and even more movie producers will want to steer clear of the film and its anti-American sentiment. In turn, more superhero comic-book action sequels will flood theaters while Alexander waits, yet again, for her turn.