‘Green Street Hooligans’ a riot of a film

Benedict Orbase

You’ve got to love the British. They sure love their soccer, oops, football.

“Green Street Hooligans” shows us that love and yet the actual sport only takes up a few minutes of its nearly two-hour running time.

The rest of the film is filled with classic depictions of loyalty and camaraderie, honest characters, and riveting scenes of emotion.

Plus the fights are, well, good.

The movie is, in part, a tour guide into the world of hooliganism. In this world, each football club (team) in the UK has their own firm: an organized gang of local fans who engage in fights with firms of rival clubs.

Elijah Wood plays Matt, a recently expelled Harvard student, a “Yank,” who gets thrust into this world the very same day he arrives in England.

The story is very straightforward (think “Boyz ‘N’ The Hood” and “Gangs of New York”), but the great thing about “Hooligans” is that you get sucked in anyway.

The key to this is characters who have roots.

Wood is decent as Matt, yet he will always be the wimpy hobbit who will never belong. Here he is an outsider, both in the firm he joins, GSE (Green Street Elite), and throughout the course of the movie. The good thing about it is, we’re okay with that.

His function in the movie is like the friend who takes you to a party, where you get to meet people ten times more interesting than him.

As such, “Hooligans” is filled with great people. Charlie Hunnam (“Nicholas Nickleby”) is stunning as Pete, the leader of the GSE who takes Matt under his wing. He steals every scene, even when Wood occupies the frame.

Even smaller roles are well fleshed-out in the movie, such as members of GSE like Bovver (Leo Gregory) and the leader of the rival firm, Tommy Hatcher (Geoff Bell).

As the story progresses, you get a sense that these GSE blokes have been chums for a long time, and that they’ve held deep-seated rivalries with other firms for even longer.

With these rivalries come fights, and with fights, violence.

There is violence in this movie, but it isn’t gratuitous; it is necessary. It isn’t over-the-top and it isn’t stylized.

These are not savages who commit senseless acts of violence. They have white-collar jobs and they watch their manners. Pete gives up his seat on the subway to let a lady sit. He teaches history at an elementary school.

The movie spends a good amount of time showing us why they need these fights, be it for issues of loyalty and brotherhood, or because of other motives.

By the time the fights do come, you’re in too deep to look away. This is partly because of the rowdy handheld shots by cinematographer Alexander Buono, who gives the film a muted palette of blues and greens.

If there are any drawbacks to this film, they would be the bookend prologue and epilogue concerning Matt’s life in America and why he was expelled from Harvard.

These scenes felt like they were tacked on for U.S. audiences. They were different in feel and visuals, and they gave too much explicit information. In effect, they detracted from the overall experience of the movie.

Still, director Lexi Alexander does a good job of portraying an England that is a far cry from Notting Hill, James Bond, and Guy Ritchie. This is small-town England, where sprawling grasslands still occupy the landscape and where houses are all lined up on cobblestone streets.

These streets are filled with people who chant their club’s theme song, “Forever Blowing Bubbles” as they are headed to their soccer game.

“Green Street Hooligans” shows us more than that. It convincingly shows us that these people are so loyal to their club, and to their firm, that they will do anything and everything for each other.

(Note: “Green Street Hooligans” is on limited release, and is currently playing at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood.)

Rating: 4/5Bottom Line: Great characters playing in a classic story.