Green Street is a film about football hooligans; in fact the film has been released under the name Hooligans in the States. A wrongfully expelled Harvard student comes to visit his sister in London and somehow gets caught up with the West Ham firm. This is a fast-paced and violent movie which is littered with cliches and predictable plot twists.
The main character is Matt Buckman (portrayed by a woefully miscast Elijah Wood) as a quiet respectable student who meekly allows himself to be chucked out of Harvard for dealing drugs despite the fact his well connected room mate was in fact the guilty party. Matt decides to visit his big sister in London and soon hooks up with her brother-in-law Pete (Charlie Hunnam), who also happens to be the head boy of the West Ham firm the GSE (Green Street Elite).
Matt has a violent introduction to football which he inexplicably enjoys and he is soon welcomed into the gang after proving he is prepared to get a bit handy. Not everyone is happy about this Yank outsider though; in particular Pete's right-hand man Bover (Leo Gregory) seems to have a serious problem with Matt and tries to scare him off. Pete, on the other hand, is smitten with Matt and instantly takes him under his wing. There are some nice comedy scenes between the pair centering on their wildly different backgrounds but the development of their friendship is rather corny.
The director here is Lexi Alexander and despite her claims about hanging with hooligans in her native Germany you have to question how qualified she is to cover the subject matter. Things are made worse by the American lead and the fact that the actor playing Matt cannot do a convincing London accent. Green Street appears to have been made for an American audience, the plot is cliche ridden and littered with unbelievable male bonding moments. The rules of combat change to suit the direction of the story, police or fellow gang members always turn up in the nick of time and there is some ridiculous notion that these scraps are like battle and some kind of honour is involved in getting pissed and kicking the crap out of a stranger.
The tension builds towards a big battle finale with West Ham up against Millwall and all sorts of skeletons come tumbling from the closet. There are no real surprises though and after spending an hour and a half glamourising football violence there is a tagged on reminder that people do occasionally get killed in these fights and perhaps hooliganism isn't so great after all.
The cast is pretty good for the most part. Elijah Wood acts well but his character is not very believable and seems motivated purely by friendship. He is simply too small and well mannered to make a realistic scrapper. Charlie Hunnam is also good as Pete except for the fact that he cannot hold a London accent. The best performance was from Leo Gregory, he genuinely convinced as the nasty brooding psycho Bover. The rest of the cast were all decent, Joel Beckett stood out and probably deserved a bigger part.
Lexi Alexander is definitely a talented director, she captured the visceral nature and raw violence of the rucks very well but her writing talents don't match her direction skills. The story is so painfully cliched, we've seen it all before and done better in films like ID and Football Factory but Green Street lacks the authenticity that both these films captured. There is not much of an attempt to show what actually makes these people so passionate - the football and I was left underwhelmed by the one stadium scene which actually made it into the film.
Green Street seems to be getting good reviews. I saw it at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the director and cast were there. Alexander mentioned that the film was controversial, which is a laughable idea, football hooligans are old news and this is not the first film to cover the subject by a long shot. People that don't know any better may think they are getting some insight into the world of football firms here but they aren't.
This is familiar stuff and it's only the flashy direction and some good acting in places which make the cheesy lines and plot twists bearable. Green Street is entertaining enough but pretty forgettable and UK audiences are liable to be unconvinced by this neatly packaged view of the violence surrounding our hallowed game.