Made in Britain: The Rise and Fall of the White Collar Hooligan
In the wake of another mortifyingly bad effort by England’s national side, The Rise and Fall of A White Collar Hooligan landed on my doorstep. Good timing, eh, particularly when you consider our latest supine penalty performance. It’s our fucking national game, and we’re utter cobblers. Still, at least we usually win on the terraces.
I’m genuinely convinced we’re in the middle of a kind of mini-golden period in British Cinema. 2011 in particular had some genuinely outstanding efforts released (and Brighton Rock, but we won’t talk about that). 2012 has got off to a relatively good start, with the new Hammer effort The Woman in Black playing to one of our traditional cinematic strengths. With films from the likes of Ben Wheatley still to come, it could again turn out to be another good year for our much benighted film industry. Mid way through comes director Paul Tanter’s The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan- released in the UK on Monday 2nd July, a film that promises to play to another of our traditional strengths: The London gangster movie.
Hooliganism was huge news in England for much of the 80’s and 90’s. However, concerted efforts by the authorities and the clubs have seen it reduced to a rump of hard-core villains. In the 90’s, films such as the criminally underrated I.D. looked at life in the various “firms”; in particular the violence and nihilism of those defined by the weekly confrontation on the terraces. Tranter’s fourth picture fits into this tradition, but borrows liberally from early Guy Richie, amongst others. So, expect a liberal dosing of “geezers”, “cants”, “Slags”, and so forth, but if anyone spots that twat Danny Dyer, can they please glass him?
Telling the story of the White Collar Hooligan, Mike, the film opens with him serving time in jail. Mike is suffering in the economic downturn, and only finds expression on the terraces with his best mate Eddie. Eddie, described as being a man who has his fingers in every dirty little scam in London, draws Mike in to working for him on a victimless crime: Credit Card cloning. Drawing out hundreds of thousands of pounds a night, our diamond geezers start boozing, snorting and screwing brasses with a fervour that’s really quite commendable. Still, though, Mike hangs on to his mantra (Shankley’s actually) that football is not life or death, it’s much more important than that, despite the distractions of money, blow and getting a dodgy blow job of a sticky tart in a pub toilet. Eventually, the inevitable happens and it all goes tits up, with Mike arrested and incarcerated.
There’s a lot to like here, frankly. Mike, while clearly a thug, is a strangely charming character, and he’s played with an air of verisimilitude by Nick Nevern. His long-suffering girlfriend Katie is warmly played by Rita Ramnani, even though her tolerance of this cretin pushes credibility a touch. Regular Tanter collaborator Simon Phillips has a sleazy charm as Eddie, and Laaaaaandaaaaan crime film mainstay (via the Bill) Billy Murray plays head of the crime syndicate and legendary thug “Mr. Robinson”.
I see this really as three clear sections. The first, the rise, is genuinely good fun. The sequences with Mike applying for any job no matter how inappropriate (the playgroup is a cracker) are genuinely amusing, while his good-natured narration as he spirals out of control may appear arch, it’s also reflective and not patronising for the audience. We’ve seen this sort of criminal story done countless times, but it’s all put together with a twinkle in its eye and a sense of fun. The second section, culminating in the highly amusing trip to Paris also . The final section, the aftermath, on the other hand, isn’t as good being predictable and lazy in places with the Manchester gangsters are unforgivably slapdash- being cockneys lost up north. Having said that, the line about “fucking cheap cunts” did make me laugh.
It’s not thematically coherent either. Mike muses at the end that it all went wrong when he stopped being a hooligan- but we don’t get any feeling that he was deeply involved. Sure, there’s lots of him at the football, which is to be expected, but an early scene with him and Eddie in confrontation with the police has the pair of them bailing out and going to the pub. ID, which I’ve already mentioned, handled the rioting scenes much better- it’s one thing to posture and snarl at the “rozzers” but it’s another to actually get your hands dirty and panel some poor “cunt”. When he muses that it went wrong for him when he moved on, he’s not telling the truth because he really wasn’t what I’d consider to be a “proper” Hooligan. He’s not part of a gang, or a firm, rather him and Eddie go to whatever game they can (unless West Ham suddenly got good enough to play in Europe when I wasn’t looking), and it’s apparent that the game itself is more important for them than the fighting. For example, Mike sits quietly at the match in Paris having a beer and not getting involved in any fight. Eddie, on the other hand is clearly the brains of the outfit, and the leap to the upper echelons of crime is a doddle for him, but he’s also more than happy to get his hands dirty and beat up those he thinks are transgressing.
Yet this isn’t the story of Eddie. It’s the story of Mike as Mike is s the principal narrator of the story. I half wonder if it wouldn’t have been a better film with Eddie in the lead, because the scam is interesting, and Eddie certainly fits the “White Collar Hooligan” motif better than obviously working class Mike. Eddie is also a far more compelling character, and he’s in far deeper than his friend, while ultimately running the scam that forms the film’s pay off. He’s also loyal, savvy and believes in honour amongst scumbags. Whereas Mike, at the end of the day, is a blue collar thug, aspiring to little more than drinking, fighting on a Saturday, shagging the platinum blonde, and some manual labour job somewhere- he just simply lacks the panache and polish of his friend.
A minor problem that the film has is that it seems to lack energy. Best resembling a coke high, the film rampages along for 45 minutes or so, then the comedown kicks in and the remainder feels strangely flat. Admittedly, crime scenes are always more effervescent, even something as aesthetically boring as withdrawing cash from an ATM, than the consequences, but I did miss the fizz and zip of the first section of the film.
The problem I have here, though, is that outside of the scam itself, there really isn’t anything that we haven’t seen before. I can list off many London crime films almost effortlessly that range from the jovial to the savage, and I can also think of plenty of hooligan movies. However, White Collar is trying to balance between the two poles; attempting to show the crime that often underpins the firms, but I don’t think it’s fully successful as I haven’t the feeling of balance, the thug side seems strangely underrepresented. As a result of this, it’s faintly anaemic- it feels like it needs much more violence and much more brutal violence at that.
Nevertheless, it is entertaining. Almost everything up until his first arrest rocks along at a fair old lick with a big cheeky grin on its face, and no little style. While the latter sections of the film can’t keep the pace up, and the fizz does go, it’s still interesting to see where Mike will end up. White Collar Hooligan is telling an entertaining tale with a likeable narrator, and as such it is indeed worth a look.
Overall, I cautiously recommend this if you’re English, and remember the 80’s, but I’m not sure I do if you’re from a nation without the difficult history of football violence that we have. I can’t in good conscience give it an unequivocal thumbs up because it is just so derivative, and the tales of villains and diamond geezers up to “naughtiness” are ten a penny not to mention that, aside from the scam, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen elsewhere. I am, however, curious to see what Tanter’s other films are like, and I do think he could well be one to watch in the future.
Neither one thing nor the other, White Collar Hooligan can have a meh. Frankly, that’s all it is.
Until next time,