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Blue Underground presents
The Firm / Elephant (1988)

Sue: Will you stop?
Bexie: Yeah, yeah I told you.
Sue: When?
Bexie: I need the buzz.
Sue: Well, buy a bloody beehive then.

- Leslie Manville, Gary Oldman

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: February 27, 2006

Stars: Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Philip Davis
Other Stars: Andrew Wilde, Charles Lawson, William Vanderpuye, Jay Simpson, Patrick Murray, Terry Sue Patt, Nick Dunning, Nicholas Hewetson
Director: Alan Clarke

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for extreme violence, language
Run Time: 01h:09m:37s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 827058108294
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BA- B-

DVD Review

These days, you can find any number of films with characters that brazenly step over the lines of proper behavior as laid out by normal society, and a film like The Firm might come off a little tame. But to brush it off as a relic would be a mistake, as the late director Alan Clarke's 1988 film about soccer hooligans still retains a wallop. This is no glorification of mindless thuggery though, as the men on display in the film are a collection of grotesques, constantly trying to assert their masculinity to the exclusion of all else.

Clive Bissell, better known to his mates as Bexie (Gary Oldman), is a reasonably successful real estate agent with a wife and young son. He is also a top boy, or leader, in a hooligan firm (gang) known as the Inter City Crew, who support West Ham United, a London-based club. As the film opens, Bexie's car is vandalized by a crew led by Yeti (Philip Davis), a platinum blond psycho who supports another London club, Crystal Palace. Shortly thereafter, Bexie and his boys meet up with Yeti's crew and a Birmingham crew to discuss Bexie's grand scheme: with the 1988 European Championship approaching and the rest of Europe's hoolies ready for open warfare, England must get organized or run the danger or being made to look like fools (England's soccer team actually lost all three games at the 1988 Euros so the thugs would have needed to vent some frustration, assuming they actually watched any games). Bexie has decided that he is the man to lead England's hooligan army. But the other two crews disagree, so a decision is reached: if Bexie's crew beat the other two in rumbles, Bexie can lead England's hooligan army.

Gary Oldman has made a career of roles pushing the limits of acceptable behavior, and Bexie is no different. Bexie doesn't seem all that unusual as the film opens; he does his job, and his relationship with his wife Sue (Lesley Manville) brims with mutual laughs and sex. But as we dig deeper into his life, we see him for the pathetic creep and bully that he is. On the surface, he takes Yeti's vandalism well, shrugging it off as something that comes with the territory. But in a trip to his parents' home, where he keeps his old room as a shrine to the footballing heroes of his youth as well as a personal armory, we see him beating a pillow with a retractable baton, grunting out Yeti's name with each strike. The script makes it clear some of the fault lies with the parents of these men; Bexie's father (Dave Atkins) just chuckles at the younger men—there's nothing strange about their behavior to him, it's in the blood. The most telling moment comes when Bexie's toddler son gets hold of his Stanley knife (the stereotypical hooligan weapon) and sticks it in his mouth, badly cutting himself. Bexie's initial guilt over the mishap quickly vanishes when his life as a hooligan is put under threat by Sue, who forces an either/or choice on him. No surprises in guessing which he picks. The film doesn't really speculate on why the hooligan does what he does. Bexie and his crew mock a televised interview with an academic on hooliganism, wondering why people just can't understand that they simply want to hit people. Bexie claims he just likes the buzz of it, but it's clearly something more deeply seated in him and the others, whether they care to admit it or not.

The film suffers slightly from a lack of scale; it's hard to believe in the hooligan summit when so few are actually there to discuss it. More numbers would have carried off the illusion much more easily. The ending likewise suffers, as though Bexie has become a holligan martyr of sorts, the gathered hooligans who have united to take on Europe are far from the numbers who would have actually gone, and it's hard to imagine this tiny lot being much of a factor. Still, the sight of them gleefully celebrating their upcoming travels to dole out violence is chilling, if unrealistic, as the scene is framed from the viewpoint of a news crew interviewing them; I can't imagine any hooligan still practicing his "hobby" would want to broadcast it on national television.

Second billed, but no less important, is Clarke's remarkable 1989 television film about "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, Elephant. At exactly 39 minutes in length, it's brief, but leaves the viewer exhausted in some ways by the end. Documenting 18 separatist murders, the film uses virtually no dialogue and only the ambient sound of each murder scene. The set-up for each segment is the same; we see a man walking along, and Clarke's camera joins the man, walking with him, up to what will be the murder scene. Once the murder is committed, Clarke lingers on each corpse, forcing the viewer to take in the sight. No effort is made at understanding either side or their respective problems, and we don't even know how many of the victims belong to one side or the other; the end result is the same: senseless murder. Clarke's tracking of each murderer, and on a couple occasions, of victims, places us squarely in their shoes as a participant in the crime, and but as each murderer leaves the scene, he lets us see what the murderer ignores, which is the consequences of the act.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes

Image Transfer Review: Made for television, both of these transfers look it, with a fairly high level of grain and not an especially high detail level. The transfers are otherwise fine, with no non-source defects that I noticed beyond some occasional aliasing.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Servicable 2.0 mono tracks are present for each film, and they're fine, given the nature of the films and their television origins. The gunshots in Elephant are pretty loud, with more punch than I would have expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Film critic Mark Kermode and producer Danny Boyle (on Elephant)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: The Firm includes only a brief photo gallery, split into sections for production shots and behind the scenes photos. Nothing of much use here. Elephant actually has the meaningful extras, such as they are. A brief interview with Oldman, Clarke's daughter, and others touches on what made the film and Clarke's work unique. It's decent, but doesn't add a whole lot to one's understanding of the work. Oldman in particular can't add much beyond generalities, and it's a shame the interviewer didn't ask about his actual working experiences with Clarke. Of primary interest is the audio commentary with producer Danny Boyle, moderated by film critic Mark Kermode. Kermode questions Boyle about his experiences working with Clarke, and the genesis and making of the film; it's an excellent, informative track.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Broken off as a single disc release from their Alan Clarke boxed set, Blue Underground's release of The Firm and Elephant combines two films that pull no punches. Both are excellent, and well-worth looking into. The DVD presentation is fine, given the low-rent origins of the films, though one would have liked more supplements.


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