“You don’t run, not when you’re with us… You stand your ground and fight!”
That it remains relevant fifteen years on is a testament to Green Street‘s position as a quintessential film about football hooliganism; sadly, that doesn’t make it a good film. Its biggest stumbling blocks are front and centre, in the awful casting of its leads: Elijah Wood, keen to shed his gentle Frodo Baggins image by throwing a few punches, is woefully unconvincing as a wannabe thug, whilst Charlie Hunnam’s laughable East London accent is a constant distraction. On its release the film was criticised for glorifying violence, which I am certain was never the filmmakers intention but rather an unfortunate byproduct. Early on an adrenaline-fuelled enjoyment of the fight is necessary to understand how an ex-Harvard student is drawn to a crowd so unlike him. However, the way these fights are shot remains largely the same as the film progresses. In some scenes, like a cafe altercation, the camera does linger on the aftermath, but in general we see little of the impact on the general public. Nor do we see the socioeconomic influences or family dynamics of members of the “firm” other than the leads’ siblings, whose actions are illogical plot contrivances that swiftly shed sympathy. Bovver was a missed opportunity — he is a more nuanced character but his arc is tied to guilt over betraying his friends rather than his motivations for joining. Green Street can be enjoyable in its awfulness, but its pretentions at a deeper exploration of hooliganism never break the surface.
“If you wish to be The King of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be The King. And there can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”
Every few years, Guy Ritchie attempts to rekindle the magic of Lock, Stock and Snatch with an East End gangster movie, in essence to prove that he can still make “a Guy Ritchie film”. My expectations were decidedly muted after repeated misfires like Revolver and RocknRolla, but The Gentlemen marks his most successful return to those roots to date. The usual ingredients are present: a talented ensemble cast, heavy sarcasm, drugs, violence and dark humour, this time channelled by a considerably better script. Hugh Grant’s unexpected casting as a scumbag investigator works well and, although his endless narration becomes tiresome, as a storytelling device it allows Ritchie to flex a little creative flair from scene to scene. Yet none of this feels particularly fresh 20 years later and old issues remain, with only a single notable woman as well as unnecessary and unchallenged casual racism (albeit from characters we are not supposed to like). Ritchie may once have shaken up gangster filmmaking but now he is only acting like a king, within an industry obsessed with repeating the past. Nevertheless, for fans of this particular style, The Gentlemen offers enjoyable if anachronistic entertainment.