“Just because you left your door wide open for some punk to stroll right in, you think the universe revolves around you.”
Detective William Bendix
Macon Blair’s directorial debut is a surreal genre blend of dark comedy, crime and revenge, unusually fronted by a depressed middle-aged woman pushed over the edge by a burglary and the everyday indifference of others. Melanie Lynskey is a wonderful lead, switching between defeated and determined, with her trademark softly spoken delivery. The humour tends to arise from the absurd or the unexpected, together with the fact that incompetence abounds in nearly every character. Like Daniel Radcliffe, since stardom in the early ’00s Elijah Wood continues to be drawn to misfit loner roles, here an initially obnoxious neighbour who aids Ruth. There is an improvisational sense to the story as Ruth makes up her plan to track down her stolen belongings, aided by the indie movie sense that no character is entirely safe. The closing act is heavily influenced by Tarantino, intersecting plans rapidly unravelling with violent consequences. It is an unusual and entertaining ride, if not a particularly memorable one.
“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.
“Do what you do. And try and have some fun. And remember, it’s just music.”
High concept thrillers can be great fun and an effective way to use budgetary constraints to heighten tension through claustrophobically limited settings. Such films rely, however, on selling the audience on that concept sufficiently to allow suspension of disbelief. A virtuoso concert pianist being threatened during a concert with being shot by a sniper if he plays a single wrong note is so preposterous that it struggles out of the gate, not least because heightened stress and conversing via an earpiece are possibly the worst ways to elicit a flawless performance. That Grand Piano works at all is a testament to the commitment of the filmmakers in spite of the content, with a cast that plays it straight throughout. The film makes good use of its space, being set almost entirely within a concert venue, providing the audience with brief interludes of breathing space beyond the auditorium itself. However, the psychological exploration of the mind of a troubled soloist whilst performing is vastly inferior to other representations (such as the the concert scenes in the anime Your Lie in April) and any veneer of cerebral sophistication swiftly falls away. The result is an exercise in old-school filmmaking and a serviceable 90-minute distraction.