Gary Oldman gives a tough, pungent and surprisingly poignant performance as Clive Bissel, “Bex,” a “30-year-old kid”—this is his wife Sue’s description of him—who holds down a respectable job and is a hands-on father to his infant son, but who also belongs to a “firm” of football hooligans who trade high-level street violence with fans of a rival team. The Inter City Crew (I.C.C.) that Bex spiritedly leads is based on the actual Inter City Firm (I.C.F.). Their shenanigans are serious; people get their faces cut and their lives lost. Right now Bex is irate—although he initially pretends calm as he contemplates revenge—because his car has been vandalized as part of tit-for-tat provocations. Sue asks Bex why he doesn’t stop behaving like an idiot. He retorts: “I need the buzz!” Besides, he asks her, “Have you seen what they did to my motor?”
Bex’s relationship with his father suggests a further motive: family legacy. The firm-violence keeps Bex connected to his working-class roots now that his being a real estate agent threatens to shellac him with middle-class identity. Paradoxically, his Bexiness protects Clive from the reality that his upward mobility may be illusory in a nation built on class distinctions.
The dialogue by Al Ashton (under the pseudonym Al Hunter) is often hilarious, and if you watch The Firm on DVD—for that is the mild-mannered name of the film—I suggest that you turn on the English subtitles so that you don’t miss a bit of it. Even so, it is Alan Clarke’s filmmaking more than the script that is the real star. Pulsating, raw, unmannered, spectacularly energetic, it is a young man’s filmmaking—in this case, by a man in his fifties. Sadly, Clarke only lived to be 54.
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