The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, 2012.
Directed by Paul Tanter.
Starring Nick Nevern, Simon Phillips, Rita Ramnani, Peter Barrett, Ricci Harnett, Rebecca Ferdinando, Roland Manookian and Billy Murry.
A casual football hooligan is sucked into the murky world of credit card fraud and soon becomes seduced by the money and women that come with this dangerous new lifestyle.
On an international level, for better or for worse, British cinema is probably best known for period pieces like Pride and Prejudice or romantic comedies such as Bridget Jones or anything by Richard Curtis.
Within Britain, however, I have always felt that we have a fascination with gritty, urban drama, especially ones that examine crime, poverty and violence. It’s evident from the soaps we make, such as EastEnders, to the shows we import from Europe (specifically Dutch creations like Wallander) and from the US (The Wire is a good example).
I’ve not always been a fan of British urban dramas, mainly because they tend to overemphasise and wallow in violence and the relative poverty of the inner city. There are some exceptions that use these themes to tell compelling and very human stories, such as Trainspotting and This is England… in fact, pretty much everything made by Shane Meadows stands out.
For some reason, a particularly popular sub-set within this category are Geeza films, those aimed at young or middle-aged white men (usually from the south) and are about “propa’ geezas” who love football, hate the police, commit crime and enjoy smashing heads in. Films like The Football Factory, The Business and Green Street. They usually star Danny Dyer or someone recognisable off EastEnders. Guy Ritchie’s earlier films could fall in this category, but they have enough style to lift them above the rest.
I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of movies, even though I watched quite a few when I was a teenager. I don’t like how these films tend to glorify violence, glamorise crime and extol the virtues of football. I’m not saying you can’t make a good film about football hooliganism (check out 1989’s The Firm, which starred a young(ish) Gary Oldman as a menacing hooligan) just that these films don’t generally appeal to me.
The point of that long introduction was to explain my trepidation about watching The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, written and directed by Paul Tanter (creator of the Jack Says trilogy), which from the trailer looked like a typical Geeza film about how football hooliganism is great and fulfilling and would mostly consist of gang violence.
How wrong I was.
I mean, that stuff is in there; the opening monologue delivered by main character Mike (Nick Nevern; Demons Never Die) explains why those who like football love it and why those who don’t (like me) will never understand and there are plenty of shots of Mike fighting in the streets with his firm, but it’s spread out and not a focus. In fact, violence is used sparingly and for maximum, brutal effect. The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan revealed itself to be an intriguing crime thriller, filled with plot twists, tension, suspense and salaciously dark humour.
As mentioned the plot focuses on Mike, an unemployed London geezer, who is frustrated by the lack of jobs. The only good things in his life are the love of his girlfriend and his love of football. During one post-match riot, Mike is reunited with old friend Eddie (Simon Phillips; Airbourne). Eddie seems to be very successful and offers Mike to come work for him. Of course, this work is rather illegal, but Mike cannot resist the wealth, excitement and fulfilment white collar crime provides, even as it rots away his former, more honest life. As Mike rises within the organisation, he soon finds himself out of his depth and incredibly vulnerable.
The plot is well structured. During the first half of the film, Mike is in a French prison and we find out how he ended up there through flashbacks, allowing the narrative to hop from scene to scene with style and energy. The second half is more linear and more focused, but this compliments the growing sense of dread felt by Mike and Eddie. Montages are used to quickly and efficiently communicate events, such as Mike’s hunt for a job, how the crime operation functions, as well as juxtaposing Mike’s party lifestyle with the breakdown of his relationship to Katie (Rita Ramnani; Strippers vs Werewolves), while high tempo music and expressive narration from Mike creates excitement and pace. It’s not a unique technique, but it is done to a very high quality, giving the film a stylish and fast-paced feel.
What raised The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan above being an average crime caper, for me, were the excellent central performances by Nevern and Phillips. Nevern plays Mike with sincerity and believability; we like him because he does seem like a normal bloke just trying to catch a break, at one moment being loud and boisterous, and then being more withdrawn and vulnerable. Similarly, Phillips has an amazing on-screen presence: he’s charismatic and friendly, but glides through each scene with the purpose of a shark, always tense and ready to snap. We’re never quite able to trust him; sometimes we even fear him. Furthermore, the two have great on-screen chemistry, as they bounce jokes off one another, engage in banter and deliver very natural and engaging, even comic, dialogue. The humour in the film is well used, without undermining the tone, and is often pitch black.
I do have a couple of complaints however. The film is shot using handheld cameras, which on the one hand deliver a documentary style to the footage, making the film seem more believable and often adding a sense of claustrophobia and tension due to the tight close-ups, but this handheld style is very distracting at times, as the camera seems to swing from side to side while characters talk. In addition, the film’s biggest star, Billy Murray (Rise of the Footsoldier),doesn’t deliver the best of performances; he chews the scenery as crime boss Mr. Robinson and is almost hammy, in contrast to how natural and real the two main character feel, and he doesn’t quite deliver the menace the role requires.
The plot also starts to lose its way near the end. Certain characters are not developed enough, or not given enough screen time to develop, again in contrast to how much Nevern and Phillips get. I never quite believed in the romance between Mike and Katie, and Mike’s bit-on-the-side, Nicey Pricey (Rebecca Ferdinando) is underused.
But overall, I was pleasantly – in fact overwhelmingly – surprised. What I expected to be boorish and excessive turned out to be stylish, engaging and intelligent. A great example of what British cinema can achieve.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★