Green Street Hooligans

| September 12, 2005

Perhaps it is just the warped fantasy of a cinephile, but there has always been something deeply romantic and magical about seeing a film in a theater you have never been before.
The plush, velvet seats and the tantalizing aroma of popcorn, seem to engulf the senses of the unsuspecting movie-goer, as the wide-eyed stares of the patrons twinkle from the low-laying lights.
It being my first time to this particular theater, I made sure not to ignore any one of these such elements.
One must revere these generous gifts, and hold them true throughout the duration of the picture.
No sooner had I firmly planted myself in a seat, than the immense screen before me illuminated with a rush of celluloid-induced images. The rollercoaster had reached the top, and for one reason or another, I could tell the drop was not far behind.
Some distance below the streets of London, the flickering of fluorescent lights, and the steady hum of an oncoming train populate the deserted atmosphere of a subway station.
As these unflattering devices take hold of the area, so do the footsteps and small talk of a fast-approaching body of people.
Their hair is short, their tennis shoes are clean and with their arms spread wide open, they march into battle. A war cry, a song and a desire to come away victorious.
With the jittering lights still raining down from above, a storm of bloody knuckles and painful grunts soon floods the floor of the station.
A head shatters the glass of a telephone booth, while the white laces of an Adidas shoe are painted red with the blood from numerous young faces.
This dream-like chaos builds an intensity of immeasurable proportions. One that is deeply rooted not only in respect, but also brotherhood.
In Green Street Hooligans, the debut feature from Academy Award nominated director Lexi Alexander, the essence of love and generosity are explored through the inspiring but brutal encounters of a somewhat sorrowful group of individuals.
The story begins at Harvard University, with journalism student Matt Buckner, played by Elijah Wood. In a bizarre series of events, Matt has been expelled just two months shy of his graduation, when he is framed to take the fall for his drug-dealing roommate. Unable to contact his well-respected journalist father, Matt takes refuge in London with his sister Shannon and her husband Steve.
No sooner does Matt enter Shannon’s home, than he is introduced to Steve’s younger brother Pete, played by Charlie Hunnam.
Physically and verbally a magnet for unwanted aggression, Pete reluctantly takes Matt under his wing, and introduces him to a fanatical realm of team dedication and violence.
Pete Dunham and his close-knit group of friends make up the Green Street Elite, a hard-core group of West Ham United supporters, and certainly one of the toughest football firms in London.
Pete tells Matt, “West Ham’s football is mediocre, but our firm’s top notch and everyone knows that…it’s really about reputation-humiliating the other mob by beating them in a row or doing things that other firms get to hear about.”
The sheer excitement of the matches and the relationships among the firm’s members appeal to Matt a great deal. Within the inner workings of the group exists a brotherhood and loyalty that was absent in Matt’s life back in the States. Though danger lurks behind every pub and back alley, Matt takes to the firm whole-heartedly. Embracing its customs and traditions like a dedicated student in a classroom.
Unfortunately, Matt has been concealing his past journalistic involvements, and not every member of the firm considers him a ‘brother.’
Bovver, played by Leo Gregory, resents the presence of an outsider, and his own apparent demotion within the ranks of the Green Street Elite. His continuing animosity towards Matt creates a powder keg of jealousy and anger that’s quickly burning away the last few inches of clear-thinking fuse.
When Bovver discovers hidden information about Matt, it sets off a horrendous chain of events that will test one’s determination and honor in the ugly face of battle.
Soon, tragic consequences force Matt to acknowledge the cost of his actions, and to reevaluate not only his future relationship with the firm, but also with his family and most importantly himself.
The genesis of Green Street Hooligans was not something that simply sprouted up over night. The heavy thematics and deeply sympathetic characters were elements that Lexi Alexander had taken in since she was a youth.
“I was five years old when my big brother took me to my first football match,” Alexander says.
“Ten years later, my brother and I were part of the firm. We had a pub that was ‘our’ pub, and on any given day of the week, you would find a number of us in there. Reliable. Protective. Loyal. Consistent. That’s what I remember most about those guys…which was more than you could say about any of our parents. The firm was our family.”
Existing as stones long since cast away, Matt and Pete are in a sense mariners searching amongst powerful waves for some spec of dry land. Matt finds this land in schoolwork, while Pete discovers it through the camaraderie of a football firm. Both parties lack the type of parental guidance they truly desire, but manage to find an abundance of spiritual wealth through the comforting actions of their friends.
Through Alexander’s meticulous and passionate direction, the suffering and wants of the characters come speeding ahead in a brutally illustrated manner.
The audience knows that the members of the firm are not the most wholesome of individuals. After all, they engage in massive street battles, and follow a philosophy that would be looked down upon by the vast populace. But still there is great sympathy for these behavioral oddities. They stand for something sincere and daring. A code of life, which Alexander doesn’t feel is quite different from anyone else.
“This film is about camaraderie and friendship, somewhat of a traditional friendship that is kind of dying out,” Alexander says.
“It happens a lot in war movies but this one was contemporary so that’s what really attracted me to it. There’s a lot of action in it, but it is much more about the love between these guys and their dedication to each other. Basically they’d give their life for each other and they live in an environment where that sacrifice can be required.”
Besides the brutal and honest force behind the performances of the actors, Alexander also employs this element of hopeful grit into the photographic aspects as well.
Delving primarily into sparse locations and low-key lighting, the look of the film itself takes on a primary role. In some ways, the lonely streets of London act as a decrepit dollhouse for the action taking place on screen.
These scarred and troubled individuals are hidden underneath a roof of gray sky. With documentary-like camera movement, and close-ups of the aggressive snarls protruding from a person’s face, the characters can be successfully shown as a sort of escapee. A prisoner, not only trying to free himself from the clouds of the sky, but also the clouds of his mind.
With Green Street Hooligans, Lexi Alexander has successfully displayed the private side of an often misunderstood group of people. Though damaging conceptions have always plagued this group, Alexander allows for the audience to be brought into a world which possesses the utmost and admirable sincerity.
“In the film, Pete Dunham is a school teacher and another member of the GSE is an airline pilot. This isn’t the kind of group Americans would immediately think of as a gang. We think of the sort of gangs you get in L.A., the Bloods and the Crips, who are basically hardened criminals and drug dealers. But in Green Street Hooligans they are just regular guys that all of us know. They are people that we could be friends with, and to think that they would be so immersed in this fanaticism about a game, and that they would become violent seems astounding.”
Truly Alexander’s sense of heroism and loyalty has lifted the mask of misunderstanding, and instead, replaced it with a clear vision of a hopeful and inspiring future.
“You never run, you never leave your mate behind! That’s the message to people of every age and every background…not for a fight situation, but everyday situations,” Alexander says.
“When your friend is sick, don’t run. When your friend has a crisis, don’t run. When your friend has a streak of bad luck, don’t run. When your friend is being treated unjustly, stand behind them, or better yet, stand in front. And when you become successful, don’t leave your friends behind.”
With this latest effort, Alexander has firmly placed her foot on the gas pedal, drawing closer and closer to her inevitable success. Looking behind is not an option. And for this budding filmmaker, it seems that the dusty trail behind her, is growing farther, and farther out of reach.

About the Author:

Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia University. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Berlin’s Sand Literary Journal, Chicago Literati and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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