Over Ambitious, Under Resourced Biopic, 4 August 2008
Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom
As a contemporary of Pennant, and veteran of the 1970’s and 1980’s terrace culture,I was keen for this film to succeed. Sadly, with some good intentions, it fails, and joins the other flawed attempts to recreate the halcyon days of the hooligan. The authenticity of the background to the film is often well observed. But Director Jon Baird fails to have the expertise, or I suspect the budget, to faithfully realise the period..
Pennant’s biography is well written, and a good read. It also covers over 40 years. A 108 minute screen running time, was always likely to be crippled by compromise, vignette and crude symbolism, and so it turns out. His story does have dramatic potential and sociological significance but neither Baird nor Pennant have the discipline or know- how to deliver it.
For lovers of football violence, there is not a lot of it. Three 20 a side rucks with Wolves, Leeds and Newcastle are the set pieces. For an 18 Certificate the grizzly reality of these confrontations is pretty sanitised giving succour to the dreamy, romantic retrospection that it was just like minded boys fighting, and finding a sense of family in hooligan gangs.
The key scene when one of Pennants lieutenants gets jumped by three Arsenal thugs and is slashed to ribbons needing 1000 stitches is strangely understated .Its setting is grimly authentic, three against one, the assailants armed, no chance of defence or escape for the victim. Yet we see only the healed welts on the victims face some time later, not the grim reality of a cowardly, bloody attack.
As a child the casual racism and bullying which “Carol” suffers, alongside a complete lack of personal identity, is well observed. Bravely, time is also found for racism he suffers at the hands of a black Rasta in jail. When his mother dies unexpectedly, his remorse at not having told her how much he loved her is genuinely poignant. Sadly though, these promising scenes are sketched in the same shorthand as the violent ones , which is very frustrating.
The “rucks” themselves are fleshed out with some ageing faces from the past, Bill Gardener,Mark Chester from Stoke, and Gilly from Wolves amongst them. It does not help the realism of the scenes to have time worn middle aged men in amongst what was a pretty exclusively young crowd at the time. This sop to some old boys to enable them to relive their youth is pretty risible. Equally Pennant himself appears uncredited as a bouncer alongside Frank Bruno, also uncredited.West Ham’s North Bank and Chicken Run are not mentioned once, the South Bank gets two unreferenced name checks.
One of the best moments in the book is when Pennant steps in to save a random black kid from getting a beating from some racist skinheads – only to discover that he has saved Frank Bruno! Pennants close subsequent links with the boxing fraternity are only dealt with in short hand in the film and his chance meeting with a similarly incarcerated Ambrose Mendy left out all together, as is, inexplicably, his “saving” of Bruno.
Virtual unknown Nonso Anozeo, successfully carries off the role of the adult Pennant.Tamer Hassan plays a convincing cameo as boxer Ray.. Otherwise the ensemble provides background only to the main events. However the fundamental rush of football hooliganism, the massed clashes of sometimes several thousand protagonists is missing. As others have found ,it is very difficult to recreate with so many of the old grounds gone. What grounds and stands do remain are out of bounds to “hoolie” film makers from clubs eager to protect their sanitised reputation.
The hackneyed use of Thatcherite film clips as she pronounces on a subject she knows nothing about is cheap and adds nothing. Amusingly, shots of the infamous Millwall riot at Luton are shown twice, but Millwall, the ICF’s great rivals are not mentioned once.
As a stand alone bio pic this is poor. Pennant is no Mandela. If you were there, there is enough to keep your interest but not enough to win your praise. In aiming to be more than a “hoolie film”, this bio pic tries to achieve much, but ultimately falls victim to its own over ambition and vanity.