Green Street - a review
‘Green Street’ is, I have no hesitation in saying, the most abysmal piece of art I have ever seen put to film.
Think of the worst films you can remember seeing. Try to rank your worst three in order. You will find it is surprisingly hard to settle upon a definite order of shitness, since they all occupy a similar murky stratum of poor quality. Maybe you can confidently assert the inferiority of films like ‘Battlefield Earth’, ‘The Phantom Menace’ or ‘Van Helsing’ by far beyond the others due to the security of their widely accepted critical bombing – or maybe you have a personal vendetta against an otherwise harmless film because you despise one of its actors. Maybe you can claim something to be ‘the worst film of all time’ because all your friends think so, even though you just slept through it or merely considered it forgettable. Perhaps you recognise the legend of Ed Wood and fondly champion his masterpiece “plan nine from outer space” as the worst fim you have ever seen – even if you’ve never seen it.
But all these choices are subjective. They rely upon prejudice, cultural pressure or the distortion of personal bias. It is too easy to declare something “the worst film ever” due to all sorts of reasons, easier still to label it “shit” or “so bad it’s good”. More horrific is the objective realisation, free of all preformed opinions, that the film you are watching is indisputably worse than anything you have ever seen. This happened to me whilst watching ‘Green Street’.
So, take me seriously when I say that this film is appalling. When I sat down in the cinema I knew nothing about the film and was excited about what the next one hundred minutes could hold. In the end I realised the time could have been more profitably spent watching Frankenstein’s monster poke its own eye out with a blunt stick.
‘Green Street’ is a testosterone fairytale devised by Americans and the British Middle Class about English football hooligans. Mafia films seem exotic to contemporary Brits since, on the whole, such a system of organised crime is alien to us and in any case does not intrude on our lives enough to provoke familiarity. Likewise, ‘Green Street’ appeals to ordinary Americans and people who live in the Home Counties since it portrays an exotic and dangerous underworld.
I would not expect a man from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to believe anything other than the tale of tragedy and chivalry spun out (and quite competently too) by the film’s creators – he has never heard a raging London thug, walked past an inner city pub at closing time or seen Burberry worn in anger. To him, the gentleman warriors of ‘Green Street’ are noble, intelligent men with a wild streak; upstanding pillars of the community who go home from their respectable middle class jobs to a private life so immersed in the passion of football that they are drawn into an adrenalin-soaked, glorious world of black eyes and blood brotherhood.
Fittingly – given Elijah Wood’s presence in the film (as a disillusioned genius expelled from Harvard after taking the rap for a roommate’s coke habit) – every street battle is filmed as if the fate of Middle Earth is at stake. Although Wood’s presence in the film is heralded as an escape from Frodo’s shadow, it is nothing of the sort. He plays a character dropped from a comfortable and banal life in Harvard/The Shire, and whisked away on an unplanned adventure that leads him far away into a dark and dangerous land where only his courage will keep him alive. He plays the role he played in ‘Rings’: the wide eyed hobbit thrown by chance and fate into the midst of danger, protected only by pluck and by the brotherly muscle of his Fellowship – in this case, the West ham Football ‘Firm’ (The ‘Green Street Elite’) who accept him as one of their own after he joins them in the glory of a game and a fight.
To continue the analogy, the Aragorn of the piece is the head thug of the GSE, a man who – although he acts like a threatening chav; a mess of curses, sovereign rings, shaved head, Burberry and injuries – is, (gasp) an upstanding History and P.E teacher during the week. But of course. And no doubt also heir to the throne of Gondor. No matter that he spends the film beating people, hurling obscenities and racist abuse, vandalising public places, stealing cars and ruining British football – it’s ok, he’s got a respectable job. And anyhow, we know that his actions are justified, because his fights are always underpinned by stirring Fight Music and shot with angelic haloes of light, rather than the bestial drumbeats of the orc army- pardon me, I mean Millwall’s corresponding football thugs. Whilst Mill wall thugs beat up random ethnic minorities in chip shops to sinister silence, Aragorn (as I shall now refer to him) cringeworthily offers a woman his seat on the tube, only minutes after destroying a phone box by pushing it over and shoving someone’s face through it. The message is clear – the West Ham hooligans are normal people who indulge in secret thrills in their spare time and yet never infringe on the existence of non-participants: as fascinating, private and acceptable as medieval battle re-enactors, fetish enthusiasts or superheroes.
In real life, such exciting and secret chivalry does not exist in the slightest. Most football hooligans will eat your face just for looking at them in the street. The film tells a very dangerous lie about English thuggery. The only thing it correctly identifies is that London street violence is only peripherally involved with football. Should you not possess better forewarning than the average American, it would leave you with the impression that the shaven-headed, stella-swigging warbands that crowd Britain’s streets are all honourable tribal warriors, full to the brim with manly courage and down to earth pragmatism.
They’re not. They’re degenerates.
Of course, this film has other flaws besides its complete and utter lack of moral sense. The plot is appallingly stilted and formulaic, laden down with predictable betrayals, ‘twists’ and last minute dashes from the airport. The script is no better, turgid with gems such as the wistfully delivered “Violence isn’t the only answer” and “There must be more to life than all this” (interestingly, there is never shown to be anything “more than all this” since the film ends in a climactic and glorious battle culminating in Aragorn’s corpse lying broken like an escapee from a primary school production of Hamlet, surrounded by grieving thugs). Aragorn’s accent slips up more often than a greased up slut with a club foot running across a bouncy castle, and some of the cockney slaaaaaang ‘as to be ‘urd to be beleeeved, sunshine. The visual clichés are all there too, with matrix-style martial arts bollocks, slow motion “noooooooo!”’s, and wide-angle “gang walks with purpose to threatening music” shots.
But I just can’t carry on talking about the film’s artistic inadequacy for long – such criticism feels hideously pedantic when compared to the roaring Frankenstein of the film’s message. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous to think, and worst of all it’s a rallying call for chavs, thugs and hooligans to feel even more self-righteous in their belief that they own civilisation. Because the underbelly of London is not an internecine football war. It’s a social, cultural and genetic crisis, which is injuring, bankrupting, frightening and killing countless decent, ordinary people who want nothing to do with it. And ‘Green Street’ makes it look awesome.
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