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An orphaned Jamaican baby, adopted by an elderly white couple and brought up in an all white area of London, became one of the most feared and respected men in Britain. CASS grew up in a time before political correctness and was forced to endure racist bullying on a daily basis, until one day when the years of pent up anger came out in a violent burst. CASS found through violence the respect he never had and became addicted to the buzz of fighting. His way of life finally caught up with him when an attempted assassination on his life, saw him shot three times at point blank range. His inner strength somehow managed to keep him alive but he was left with a dilemma; whether to seek vengeance as the street had taught him, or renounce his violent past. Written by
Although often periodically progressive in that way these films should sought to avoid, Cass is a passable retelling of man's struggle through an unremitting existence.
With The Football Factory still reverberating in the memory, it's difficult to get as excited about a film like Cass as one would like; a piece living in the still-recent shadow of such a film whilst calling on direct influence from the likes of 2005's Green Street as well as bits and pieces of an older crime film, albeit disconnected from hooliganism, in the form of De Palma's Carlito's Way. Indeed, Cass' director is a certain Jon Baird; a man who worked on Green Street as an associate producer - his film here formulating into a similar tale of a "white crow" and their consequent exposure to a world around them they are inherently alien to. This, before undergoing a gradual inception into it. It all smells suspiciously of said example's Elijah Wood character, an American getting lost amidst the sociological norms of a hooligan-dominated zone and having to undergo this process of initiation so as to get by. A similar framework of someone as much-an outcast to their surroundings getting involved, before realising the nature of one's ways and one's life, is told here, only over the space of about thirty years and not as engagingly.
The film follows that of true-to-life criminal-come-hooligan turned author Cass Pennant; a man whose tale here is as true as they tell us it is, and yet doesn't carry that naturalistic sense that it is someone's life actually progressing from one point to another. Told in glaringly episodic fashion, a fresh popular song peppering the soundtrack every time the era jumps forward, Nonso Anozie plays the titular lead: a man of Jamaican descent adopted at a young age by a white London couple in the 1960s, and brought up as their own in decent, friendly home-set surroundings. As a youngster, he is marginalised and ridiculed for his colour; a safe haven arriving in the form of a local public house practically run by the fans of West Ham United, whom welcome him in if it means he's a fan of the team and help him out when he runs into those racists outside of hours. This sense of unity is epitomised by the singing in unison those within carry out; football shirts and scarves in the club's colours reiterating this sense of being at one. In an attempt to instill an early sense of where we're at, we observe The Football Factory's own Tamer Hassan doing what the character of Billy Bright did in Nick Love's said 2004 film, when pub-set shenanigans give way to the intimidating of a young kid who thinks he can intermingle with those above his weight.
Cass is apprehensive of going to football to begin with; not even his father's reiteration that the stars of the day and certain World Cup winners will be there appears to convince him, but he rides it out and then discovers a taste for what lurks beneath the following of a football team. Thus that of what we see of Cass' life is launched, his descent through hooliganism and organised violence; a world in which the attraction of a footballing 'firm' facing off against another is more appealing than the match itself. West Ham's biggest rivals in this regard are Leeds United, not out of geography nor the fact they are both of an immensely skilled nature alá the Real Madrid-Barcelona ties, but because these two fight the hardest.
What transpires are several 'bits' and pieces of Pennant's life: his first feel of football violence; his going to prison; his meeting of a girl; his getting wind of a business venture, none of it much more than slightly interesting and all of it propped up with a lacklustre script seeing dialogue made up of insults and lots of four letter words predominantly coming from that of the males therein with meek moral out-linings accompanying spots of common sense exuded by the females. Director Baird strikes us as someone doing their utmost to make a good film, maturely; his veering off down a route to encompass a sub-plot inspired by Carlito's Way, as well as the fact Cass is later released from prison to the same sound of pomp and circumstance that saw Alex De Large enter prison in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, suggests the man has seen his fair share of films; enjoyed them and desperately wanted to make his own whilst pay homage, but there is no cumulative whole around which everything gels. Its politics may be in the right place but the film's overall feel as you both watch it and absorb it is that of unsmooth; as if it's fumbling around in the dark for the right buttons, sometimes finding them, but doing its utmost overall to do the right thing.
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