The football hooligan movie! It's a genre of film in Britain that has proved to be a sound source for farming, be it the oldies like The Firm and I.D., or the spate of them that surfaced in the last decade such as The Football Factory, Green Street and Cass, films quenching the thirst for those who were either part of the scene, those who wish they were part of the scene, or merely for those interested in maybe learning about the subject to hand. There would have been many a football hooligan film fan who ventured into Awaydays and got torpedoed by what was on offer. For this is a different animal, a deep picture with heart and brains and as it turns out, it's the most misunderstood movie of the football hooligan splinter.
It's an everyday reminder of the absurdity of life.
Set in 1979 on The Wirral, Merseyside, film centres on the relationship between two lads, Carty (Bell) & Elvis (Boyle), who become great friends whilst running with The Pack, a small band of football hooligans who followed Tranmere Rovers. The Pack are different to other football mobs of the time, where the others were made up of boot boy skinheads and scarf wearing dockers, these lads wore casual sportswear, neat sweaters and sported wedge or fop haircuts. They also used Stanley Knives to maim their opponents in battle. What unfolds with the Carty & Elvis axis is that one of them, Carty, wants to be in with The Pack even though he's not sure why, while Elvis wants out but isn't sure how to achieve his goals. They both need each other, but for different reasons. It seems......
Welcome to the petite bourgeoisie.
Writer Sampson achieves a rare old thing in the genre, he manages to not glamorise the violence perpetrated by the football mob. He cloaks some of his characters in misery and others as sad misfits, and he perfectly understands that violence for these people is a drug, their unity is a need to belong, a means to escaping what they see as a void in their lives. With Carty and Elvis, they are from different backgrounds: Elvis lives alone in a gungey flat (nicknamed The Bat Cave), he's a tortured wastrel with a cynical outlook on life, Carty, recently rocked by the death of his Mother, still has a job with good wages, a father, a kid sister whom he adores and a clean family home. As Elvis tells Carty, almost bitingly, that he has it all and he doesn't belong with the people he so desperately wants to be with.
Hate the World it's so romantic.
It has been coined as the film that finds This is England meeting Control, and that is fair enough, though it's more of a burden since many observers accuse Awaydays of lacking freshness and not being worthy of mentioning with those two excellent movies. Yet Awaydays gets it mostly right, the period detail is spot on, and suitably grim as it turns out for a depressed Thatcher era backdrop. From old slam door trains and vinyl selling record shops, to the apparel sported by the old football gangs and the new casual look of The Pack, Sampson clearly knows his onions. One criticism I saw laughed that the youngsters of The Pack were fighting grown men, how it looked ridiculous, but that's exactly what it was, out with the old and in with the new. 1979 marked the crossover from the boot boy scarf wearing thug to the young "dressers" that would become infamous as football warfare reached a front page news zenith in the 1980s. The film may ultimately be about an unorthodox "bromance", with thematics of alienation, grief, family and addiction threaded deftly into the story, but it sure as hell knows the era as much as it does the characters.
Where will it end?
Which brings us to sound tracking and acting. The makers have fashioned a brilliant sound track that blends with each passage of play in the film; quite often marrying up to the character's emotional states. This is the post-punk era and that means Joy Division, John Foxx's Ultravox, Magazine, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Cure form the backbone of the soundtrack. All great bands and all purveyors of sadness, poetry and a veer from the norm. The acting away from Boyle (outstanding emotional layers) and Bell (wonderfully enigmatic) is a bit hit and miss, but such is the strength of the work by those two, film doesn't suffer. Stephen Graham is a darn fine actor, but nobody should be thinking he is stretching himself here, it's a role he could do in his sleep, but it always remains a well etched characterisation of an ex-squaddie who clearly can't let go of violence in his life. Oliver Lee is suitably menacing as the sadistic Baby Milan, and Grainger does well with a small female role in a film that uses the ladies perfunctorily. Must mention Mitchell's photography, which has moments of brilliance (check out the near water shots) that belie the low budget of the production.
Some character motives are sketchy and Scouse accents are wayward at times, but this is an excellent film if you know what sort of film awaits you. It's a far cry from the chest thumping machismo of those films mentioned earlier, in that respect it's a failure. But as a character study, an examination of confused souls searching for something to bind their life to, and a observation of a young male friendship under unusual circumstances, Holden & Sampson's film is a near masterpiece. 9/10