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Movie Review: Green Street

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A wrongly expelled Harvard journalism student travels to England and becomes involved with the Green Street Elite (GSE), a notorious “firm” for London’s West Ham football club. There, he befriends the charismatic leader of the GSE and learns not to be a pansy.

Elijah Wood, Misunderstood

Most reviews of Lexi Alexander’s Green Street tend to focus on Elijah Wood’s performance as Matt “the Yank” Buckner. This is unfair. Not only does it take away from the vibrant performance of Charlie Hunnam as Pete Dunham, but it leads to the dismissal of Green Street as an empty film — a definite mistake. Neil Smith of the BBC perhaps sums up this critical opinion best when he writes:

“Elijah Wood [is a] a pint-sized, baby-faced actor who makes the least plausible hooligan in cinema history.”

Such a criticism betrays a serious misunderstanding of the film. Not only does Elijah Wood’s boyishness enable Alexander show how groups like the GSE attract their members from a wide spectrum of classes but — more importantly — it shows that it is precisely “girly guys” like Wood’s Matt Buckner who find themselves most attracted to groups of organized violence. Emasculated by their lives (jobs, girlfriends, wives, society) they seek any outlet they can find which allows them to express their masculinity.

“I Believe in a Ball and Two Posts, Amen.”

Bill Durodie, the director of the international centre for security analysis at King’s College London, has the following to say:

“And a society that believes in nothing is particularly frightened by people who believe in anything, and, therefore, we label those people as fundamentalists or fanatics, and they have much greater purchase in terms of the fear that they instil in society than they truly deserve.”

I think this can be fruitfully applied to Green Street, and to the film’s depiction of the GSE. Because for every blow the film strikes against the GSE, former kickboxing champion Alexander smacks a roundhouse to the face of society. Green Street doesn’t glorify violence; it glorifies standing for something.

Like one of the characters in the film mentions, the GSE is not a typical gang because it neither uses firearms nor engages in street crime. And the violence that does occur, while intense and often brutal, stays within the firms. Therefore, the GSE isn’t a physical threat to “normal” society. Instead, what “normal” society finds threatening is the idea that the GSE believes in something. At a time when traditional boundaries (between genders, between religions, between countries, between cultures) are being erased and society is heading toward globalization and [at least superficial] equality, any sort of atomization is viewed with fear and contempt.

Stand Your Ground

When we first meet Matt Buckner, he’s meek, unselfish, soft-spoken and unwilling to entertain a resistance against the roommate who’s substantially fucking him over. The idea to resist through violence is completely foreign to him — he doesn’t even consider it. Instead, he does what most people do; he accepts the situation and tries to cope.

At the beginning of Green Street, Matt Buckner is the perfect contemporary man. He’s safe for everyone. In essence, he believes in everything. But by the time Green Street ends, after he’s gone through his adventures in the GSE, Matt Buckner is a new man.

He learns to be confident, to stand up for what he believes is right, and to respect not only others, but also himself. What he doesn’t become is some kind of ultra-macho tough guy who listens to no one and thinks he can solve every problem with a punch to the gut and a kick to the head. And that’s Alexander’s point; that between the safe “perfect contemporary man” and dumb “ultra-macho tough guy” exists a happy medium. This medium man — the new Matt Buckner — doesn’t believe in everything fed to him. But he also doesn’t believe in nothing. He simply believes in something.

Hooligan the Good

Lexi Alexander has balls. She refuses to look at the GSE as one-dimensionally evil and destructive. While this leads critics such as Neil Smith to declare stupidly that Green Street, “obscenely glamorises senseless violence,” it makes for a significantly deeper film than any anti-hooligan polemic Smith would praise.

Most of the virtues of the GSE present themselves in the character Pete Dunham, their young leader. Some of these come delivered via hammer — when, for example, Pete gives up his seat on a bus to an old woman to show his thoughtfulness and caring — but others creep up on the viewer. One incident, which illustrates the fraternity among the members of the GSE, occurs early in the film: After attending his first football match, Matt is mistaken for a member of the GSE and attacked by a rival firm. The boys from the GSE come to his defence without hesitation, even though they distrust him both as an outsider and as an American. They put their own bodies in danger to save his.

The theme of self-sacrifice repeats itself throughout the film, as does the other key virtue of the GSE: honour. Both present themselves most powerfully in the film’s ending.

Hooligan the Bad

To say that Green Street glamorizes violence is to pay no attention to the film. Alexander shows the consequences of violence time after time (on family, on children, on the direct participants) in the story, and especially through her presentation of it. The fight scenes in the film are extremely brutal and unflinching. They may show the allure of violence — the rush — but they also show the pain, the ugliness, and the typical futility.

Lexi Alexander’s Green Street condemns violence without condemning the GSE. She boldly develops the GSE into an organization with reprehensible facets and redeeming qualities — like any good author would a good character. To suggest Alexander make a film that only condemns is to suggest she make propaganda.

Conclusion

Green Street may not be what most people want it to be; it doesn’t show what society dictates should be shown — or should be — and it doesn’t come to conclusions that are in complete harmony with the current view of an ideal society or an ideal man.

Technically accomplished and ably acted, Green Street never achieves the realism most critics think it craves — the story is too stilted and visibly structured for that — but it works wonderfully well as a good and surprisingly challenging film that could well be stamped: “subversive”.

Rating: 3.0 / 4.0

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About Pacze Moj

  • Taro

    You are unusually astute. Even I have learned new ways of loving this film from what you have written here.

  • http://www.walloworld.com BIll Wallo

    Haven’t seen the film as of yet, but I thought your points about Wood sounded good; yes, it’s true that he might not fit the “stereotype” of the “hooligan” and thus be far more representative of how people from all walks of life can be attracted to the sort of things portrayed here.

    That said, I wonder if the complaint is really that Wood is too “baby-faced” for the role, or if it is that he somehow doesn’t manage to convincingly portray the violence which even the baby-faced are capable of?

  • magicdancer

    Well, finally…..a reviewer who understood the film and the point Lexi Alexander, director, was making with it. I have seen the film and read at least 50+ online and print reviews at this point. You are the first to truly “get it.” This film has struggled to be seen and all the reviewers who blasted it as being merely about violence have not helped the situation.

    This is a wonderful film. The fact that actor Elijah Wood is considered so “baby-faced” and unthreatening makes his transition in this film all the more effective. Great acting by both Wood and co-star Charlie Hunnam. See it if you can.

  • Deenan

    This film as you say is ‘seriously misunderstood.’ Thank you Bill for being one of the few people who really “saw” the movie.

  • http://criticalculture.blogspot.com Pacze Moj

    Thanks for all the comments!

    Bill Wallo: Good point — maybe I’m looking at the criticisms of Wood from a narrow point of view.

  • http://www.fudco.com/habitat Randy Farmer

    I agree with the points made in your essay, but think that the writing and direction muddled the message.

    Like your review, I only *wish* the film started with showing Matt’s (Wood) weaker and Pete’s (Hunnam) better sides, but instead the very first scene is that of a seemingly random firm skirmish, lead by Pete.

    This emphesized the violence before the opening credits were complete. Too bad.

    Imagine if the first battle we see on screen were the firm coming to innocent Matt’s defense. All the other reviews might have read very differently.

  • Paul

    A decent enough review but speaking as an English football fan (I’m guessing you guys are all Americans) I have to tell you that in terms of authenticity this movie is seriously poor. The culture of football (soccer to you) is complex and involves all kinds of things such as clothes, music and politics none of which are dealt with here. Drugs also play a major part in the violence but again, nothing here.

    But what has really alienated people here in England is the appalling lapses in detail. I know they had a low budget but even basic things such as using the wrong station names and poor rhyming slang could have been dealt with better. And don’t even get me started on some of the plot points because they were a joke. For example, just how did his sister know where the final fight scene was going to be???? And how did Matt gete there? Run?????

    2 out of 10 at best.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com alienboy

    West Ham – Green Street Elite?

    More like mid table shite !

  • http://samlong11@hotmail.com sam long

    Best film i’ve ever saw in my life.

  • stu

    Charlie Hunnam- worst cockney accent ever

  • becca

    dis wos da best film in da wrld n pete is sooooooo hot omg it wos da best film ive eva seen much beta den football factory

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