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"Screen Two: The Firm (#5.8)"
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Reviews & Ratings for
"Screen Two" The Firm (1989)

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15 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

The car bombing, the testosterone, and not a ball in sight

10/10
Author: Lexo-2 from Dublin, Ireland
27 March 2000

Different from the similarly-entitled Tom Cruise vehicle in much the same way that a punch in the head is different from a solicitor's letter, this is where the late great Alan Clarke - Britain's best TV director and perhaps the best British director of the 70s and 80s - finally got to work with Gary Oldman. Oldman is Bex, leader of a gang of football hooligans. His crew go head-to-head with another bunch of guys from Birmingham. That's pretty much the story.

The insight, for which respect must be paid to screenwriter Al Ashton, is that these guys aren't poor white trash but professional men. Bex is an estate agent and when we first meet him he is selling a house to a couple by admitting to them frankly that it's rubbish. He shows them in and says "If this house don't sell itself I'm a monkey's uncle." Then he walks away down the path and, for a moment, scratches his armpits and gibbers like a chimp - an inspired bit of improv from Oldman.

This was Oldman before he got into his period of being an American Ham - sharp, keenly observational and immensely likeable even though the character he's playing is a complete scumbag. There's a lot of violence, and violence in a Clarke film isn't a rowdy punchup, it's Stanley knives in the face and iron bars in the groin. A gun gets used towards the end, which I personally found a bit unrealistic.

One of the most remarkable things about this movie is that at no point do you actually see a football. These guys aren't football fans, they're in it for the fighting. They were the energies that Margaret Thatcher unleashed and then affected to deplore. Guys like Bexy own much of Britain now.

When Oldman got tired of acting in bad American cop thrillers, he showed what he'd learned from Clarke by making Nil By Mouth. The boy done good. The Firm was Clarke's last film; a year later he was dead from cancer. Don't miss it.

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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Alan Clarke goes out in style!!!

10/10
Author: andrew leslie sylvester blanks (blanks@filmbuff.co.uk) from chelmsford, essex
11 December 2000

His last masterpiece. Alan Clarke of Scum and Made in Britain fame tackles the subject of football hooliganism deftly and precisely exposing the unique structures of the hooligans while utterly scornful of it. If Made in Britain is Clarke's finest and Scum is Clarke's most famous, this has to be his most underrated. totally convincing, Clarke shows a true understanding of both his subject and of the medium in general. using the documentary style to a devastated effect, the film has a feeling of utter truth, Gary Oldman in particular conveys that as an actor giving an extraordinary performance of raw power as the chief hooligan. Sadly people regard The Firm only as a Tom Cruise vehicle where in fact hidden away is something far more powerful, far more exciting and far more real, as a result it seems that the film conveys more about the brutality of hooliganism than even news reports do as reports tends to cater for an audience, this obviously doesn't and is hard as nails and totally uncompromising.This knocks the similar I.D into a cocked hat. Undoubtedly one of the finest British films of the 80's. this is simply a must see and finally when Clarke died less than two years later, England lost one of it's finest, more realistic filmmakers.

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Top Film

10/10
Author: Mmyers2003 from England, UK
1 February 2006

Firstly, I'd like to say that the first two reviewers for this film have completely missed the point. I could easily take their reviews apart.

This film is as true as can be to portray how the hooligan had evolved from the 70's. The culture had swiftly moved onto the lower-middle classes by the 1980's. No longer did they need to be "Skinheads" or "Working class scum" who used the movement as a means to protest against the state.

In order for the hooligans to survive they had to become more intelligent and more cunning to outwit the police. The football shirts were put in one draw and the suits and cotton shirts were pulled out of another - the element of disguise.

Gary Oldman is Bex, the hilarious yet psychotic estate agent who has one goal - to be top boy in Europe. Along with his crew, The ICC, Bex puts it to two other rival firms that he wishes to lead them all into Europe...but they're having none of it. They let him know that the only way he will get that position is if his best ten can beat theirs.

As well as trying to keep him marriage together Bex battles his way to becoming "top boy"...but does he actually succeed? Alan Clarke's films are always witty, gritty and as realistic as they can get. Its a shame the man made only one more film before being taken from this world (cancer) in 1990.

More realistic than "Football Factory" and "I.D", its highly recommended you watch this Made-For-TV classic.

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8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Gritty, violent, gripping....

8/10
Author: dash-wortley from York, England
23 February 2004

Finally got to re-watch this British classic on the newly released DVD, and it's as good as I remember it in 1988. Football hooligans strive for power, trying to prove themselves before a venture with their teams into Europe. Gary Oldman showed what a talent he was as the lead character Bex Bissell, estate agent by day, Inter City Crew leader by night (and Saturday afternoons of course!).The film is relentless in it's progress, keeping you gripped, and you see the commitment the characters have with their commitment to the cause. All the actors play their part, and the only critisism of the film is at 67 minutes it's too short-you want it to go on longer, but all in all, it is a classic, and well worth watching. 8/10.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Watch this movie ASAP

10/10
Author: AlistairJones from London, UK
5 September 2007

A short but great movie. Gary Oldman's acting is nuts in portraying a psycho hooligan. The ending is short, sharp and left me chilled.

It's a fair point from other posters that in their hey-day the ICF had a hell of a lot more numbers than shown in the film. However Oldman's acting stands out and whilst people say the production is poor I feel this adds to the 80s effect. Oldman's character, a run of the mill middle class lad, is very convincing in how he becomes a crazed hooligan on match days and when out with the lads. The knock on effects on his bad treatment of his wife and baby adds to the reality.

I'd recommend anyone to watch this movie, as long as you're not offended by violence. It's only just over an hour of your time and leaves a powerful message.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Interesting insight for the time into how hooliganism had modernised in England.

7/10
Author: johnnyboyz from Hampshire, England
9 March 2008

It's such a buzz to discover a British film made two decades ago and such a buzz to enjoy it to the degree that I did. It can be said that 1988's The Firm works more than a piece of nostalgia and a gritty look at the mentality of a football hooligan who seems to have it all but risks loosing it anyway rather than a piece of inspired and original film-making but then again, you cannot hold that against it. The reason for this is because The Firm is a 70 minute long, BBC produced, made for television feature rather than your typical production.

At a time when British film was getting by in the latter years of Thatcher's reign and in a decade when two British films won best picture back to back (Chariots of Fire and Ghandi, respectively), The Firm works as a hark back to a time when football violence was still a predominant problem in England and abroad because of English fans. There is a scene in which someone on television talks about hooligans being smarter and more organised in their violence; something the lads in the firm dismiss but of course they go on to comply with later on when they meet up with rival firms during a proposal. The fact of the matter is; when you watch modern efforts like The Football Factory, the mere opening scene in that is an organised series of meetings of Chelsea fans as they aim to assault a pub entertaining rival fans. Likewise; to give you an idea of how bad the hooliganism was at the time of The Firm, it was so bad that during the 1990 World Cup in Italy, authorities and organisers had to make sure all of England's group games took place in Cagliari, on the island of Sardinia so that if there was any trouble, the airports and docks would be shut off and the hunt would contain the hooligans to the island's limits.

But whilst The Firm is an entertaining and gripping film, it suffers from its constraints and budget, as well as its run time. Gary Oldman is on absolutely commanding form as Bex Bissell, a man to rival that of Billy Bright from The Football Factory in terms of aggression if not physique but Oldman does not need physique as his acting and ability to get across a psycho persona is there already; there are shades of Agent Stansfield, a character he would play in Léon, six years later. The Firm is a great idea and one that is itching to perhaps be re-done; the idea that the 'job' that is being a hooligan is going through its own patch of modernity; the idea that no matter what, you honour those who have fallen and those who you at least respect on the battlefield – something that's echoed in the closing speech by England fans; it's all very tribal and ritual as we remember and fight for those lost on the battle field. "The hooligans have jobs" says the television; "They have wives, children and lives" it also says – the hooligans even have suits and nice cars, something that is confirmed when they all meet up initially; they resemble gangsters organising crime, not brainless fans up for a fight when/if a match seems to be dying out.

The Firm is a film that has 'That's Amoré' playing over its opening, a song we perhaps associate with gangster films, the Italian mafia for instance. The film isn't plotted but that isn't a bad thing by any means; we are treated to dialogue to set the scene of who these people are, something which sparkles when Bex and rival firm members exchange insults upon meeting and we get an emphasis on Bex's home life and home life in general – a lot of this film takes place in Bex's house where he struggles to clarify why he is what he is. His wife, Sue (Manville), constantly asks the question to the point that you think Bex will lash out. Sue is a woman and a strong character to have in such a film which is set in such a male dominated world. I say the film is not plotted but in a way it is, albeit in a loose and reliant fashion. Epic and gritty realism is the basis for the opening but whilst that is retained until the end, the film is a series of scenes revolving around why one, then two, then three people have to drop out of the firm that will take on a rival firm for the right for something else. That something else is the right to lead the joined England firm at the European Championships in West Germany, 1988.

So with this in mind, Bex and his crew, who are made up of people like Mickey from Only Fools and Horses and Sol from Snatch, come up with a series of reasons that they cannot fight for the right to have Bex as the England firm leader. The idea for the narrative is a little silly; let three firms bash the hell out of each other for the right to see who can orchestrate the right to bash the hell out of continental Europeans, but the scenes work; Bex's loose mentality works as a constant threat; the cause and effect holds up to the end and we get to see lots of exterior shots of London, 1988. If by the closing hurrah it feels like it has outstayed its welcome, its because due to the shocking twist that happens, the West Ham firm members will probably be spitting blood in an itching orgy of lust for revenge but you don't get that feeling – instead, everyone comes together; the West Ham firm with a bad case of amnesia. Too bad it was all for not much as England faded away out of Euro '88 without so much as a win.

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7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

A fascinating document, but pretty much 'of its time'...

7/10
Author: Howlin Wolf from Oldham, Gtr Manchester, England.
21 May 2004

... because the culture of 'hooliganism' has moved on since this was made. It certainly hasn't gone away, but the organisation of such things is tighter these days with the aid of technology like the Internet. Hopefully these developments will be addressed in upcoming fare like "The Football Factory".

So the 'values and ideals' shown in this film are different because it's a bygone age. Less materialism and more violence exists EVERYWHERE these days, so showing it creeping into suburbia isn't necessarily as shocking now as perhaps it was when viewed at the time. There are some nice performances here though from a wealth of British acting talent who went on to bigger things, and Oldman keeps you watching throughout as only he can; holding the screen with his intense passion. Disappointingly, though, the scenes which are most effective are often undercut by what follows, with the pace never quite finding itself even at a short 67mins. The ending can similarly be seen as a damp squib, but the one or two powerful moments in getting there make this a worthwhile experience for fans of some of the actors.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

" I need the Buzz "

Author: mulhollandman from Ireland
5 July 2004

Alan Clarke has cemented his reputation as a gritty realist director through three successful films. These are " Scum ", " Made in Britain " and " The Firm ". These are his most memorable as they were the launch pads for three of Britain's greatest actors. Ray Winestone as Carlin in " Scum ", Tim Roth as Trevor in " Made in Britain " & Gary Oldman as Bex in " The Firm ". All these films have one thing in common. They do not let up for anything or anyone when it comes to Violence, Racism and anti-social beliefs.

The Firm centers around the I.C.C (Inner City Crew) firm and their leader and top boy Bex. Bex is a well to do estate agent who has a nice motor, a lovely home and wife and child. Bex's position is firmly established in their first meeting with two other rival firms. Bex has an vision of a united firm to go to the German European Cup and it is he that should lead it. However he must deal with the leaders of the other firms before he can lead an united front abroad.

We see the I.C.C travel to rival turf and stake their claim but this is not before a disaster happens. The world of Football thuggery is dealt with carefully by showing us Bex as a man that craves the buzz that he is top boy. He is not content with being the leader of his own firm he wants more and more. It appears he has everything else a good job, car and a loving wife however as his obsession with being the over all top boy that we are introduced to the cracks that are appearing in his marriage due to his violent past time.

This film is excellent in it's character portrayal and it does show a very different Gary Oldman character. Bex at the out set comes across as a typical nice bloke who works hard and has a good sense of humor but at the end of the film you are weary that you would never cross him due to his ferocious temper. There is one great scene when Bex's wife confronts him and asks when is he going to give up this lifestyle and he replies " I need the Buzz ". What can I say this really does sum up the whole idea of grown males going around knocking seven shades out of one another.

My only complaint is that the film was not longer. My reasons for watching this film is because of the new films that are being made about football violence (The Football Factory, The Yank)I wanted to see a film that was made during the time that football violence was in it's prime in Great Britain and Europe. I was also thrilled that there was no mention of any football teams as it showed exactly what these thugs enjoyed doing and that is slapping people. This point is observed by one of Bex's crew at a meeting.

If it is ever on the T.V. watch it, or buy the D.V.D it will not disappoint.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Social Realism or Did You Spill My Pint...

Author: Zeech from United States
22 April 1999

Oh Yes...This is no exaggeration. The footie the fights. This movie has it all. I grew up on the outskirts of this thing, and as the movie shows, it is all highly organized and the participants are like Baz, often 'regular, working people' who even without being 'under the influence' need to get into a good kicking. The historical reality is, English fans became banned in numerous countries (most of Europe) and interestingly enough often became one of the few male bonding rituals, where race was not always an issue, as long as you could 'deliver a good kicking' you were in- witness the racial mix of Baz and his posse. I use this Film in media classes, especially with international students as a good kick off point for looking at a certain aspect of English culture Zeech

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

How can I put this?

Author: darksong-1 from United Kingdom
6 March 2008

I watched this last night on digital Film4 channel that are having a season of British Films. I saw it long before but decided to watch again in all curiosity. This time i found it all to be more enjoyable owning to all experiences. Gary oldman plays a hard working sosciopath type who is willing to die defending his status in streets. At war with a home rival gang who they are forever locked in battle. Yet share a mutual love for football

The speed of the film was fast moving and full of tension. Philip davis as gang opposition leader Yeti makes a great contender in contrast to Gary oldman. To see them both in confrontation and each angrily spitting out bitter remarks is funny. in that they are both enjoyable and fun to watch and determined to control a tempest of emotions.

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