Release Date: On Sale Now
Director: Alan Clarke
Cast: Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davies
Reviewer: Stu Laurie
Ah Gary Oldman. British acting royalty, a diverse character actor who has graced small screen, big screen and stage as a variety of characters. What do you know him for? Harry Potters brave yet undoubtedly troubled Godfather Sirius Black? Batman’s police insider Commissioner Gordon? Maybe you remember his earlier roles as Sid Vicious in the biopic Sid and Nancy or Drexl in True Romance?
Whatever role you know Oldman for there is no denying his status as an actor. And yet, one of his most acclaimed roles has gone largely unseen due to the controversy that surrounded it when it was released onto our TV screens back in the 80’s. That film is The Firm.
The Firm stands to this day as one of the finest pieces of film on football hooliganism to date, yet due its TV release and late (1996) release onto VHS and DVD the film does not always gain the recognition it deserves, despite its cult following.
The Firm follows a number of football hooligans who form a ‘firm’. They live to fight, they embrace the violence that comes with the role. The head of the firm is Bex, played by Gary Oldman. Married to wife Sue (Lesley Manville, his real life wife at the time) with a young son Bex has a respectable Monday to Friday job as an estate agent. Yet come the weekend he meets up with his friends and causes havoc, arranging fights against other ‘firms’.
As Bex gets involved further within this world he begins to lead his firm to the fight of their lives in Europe. What is interesting is that as the film progresses it becomes evident that this lifestyle has little to do with football. In fact, here is no football in the film, other than the opening scene. This lifestyle has nothing to do with the sport. It’s to do with a love of the violence, of the adrenaline rush and this is identified perfectly within the film.
The Firm mirrors the firms of the time, where members were respectable, working family men during the week but turn the tables come the weekend. They have good jobs, good incomes and loving families, but something is still missing. A hole still needs to be filled, and there is only one way to fill that void.
Whilst the film has a strong supporting cast, Gary Oldman shines brightly throughout the film. He utterly embodies the character and the nuances of both dialogue and body language in his performance are astounding. He bounces brilliantly off Leslie Manville and the rest of the cast and his future as a character actor is evident.
The British Film Institute have released a Blu Ray remastered version of the film with added extras. These extras include the Directors Cut of the film, with all the scenes that were cut for the Theatrical Cut. This brings in a strong violent aspect, and it adds in to the grit and brutal honesty of the film. The added scenes are obvious as they appear much more washed out and fuzzy compared to the original high definition footage, and whilst this may detract slightly from the film it doesn’t ruin the experience.
As with many DVD releases, there are commentaries including one from Gary Oldman. The commentary offers some insights into the production and some behind the scenes nuggets, yet it seems to taper off towards the end. Oldman appears to lose interest as the film progresses and so the commentary begins to become less frequent.
The BFI release also includes Elephant, director Alan Clarkes final film before his death. This film depicts the troubles in Northern Ireland and despite the violence that is present is in stark contrast to The Firm. Whilst The Firm has a strong influence from its dialogue, there is no dialogue in Elephant. The film moves from one murder to another with no explanation and no dialogue The film itself is desensitised to its violence, not recognising it or marking it but simply moving on, much as the country became desensitised to the murders and the violence at the time.
There is also a short interview with director Alan Clarke on his choices in terms of the content and direction of his work, and in particular The Firm and Elephant. An interesting look at how the projects developed and his thoughts on their reception.
The BFI remastered release provides audiences with the opportunity to obtain one of Gary Oldmans finest performances, and a film that could easily be a pre-cursor for films such as Green Street. A brutally honest look at the football hooliganism of the time and the people that took part. The extras provide an insight into the behind scenes life of the film, and a sneak peak into the directors mind set when developing the film.
The Firm has developed a cult following within the British cinema scene, with this BFI release we can only hope it gets the wider recognition it deserves as a piece of cinema.
This BFI release can be found on the following link;
Have you seen The Firm? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.