Directors often can't help but repeat themselves from time to time, often through the use of a trademark template, visual approach or subject matter. English filmmaker Nick Love's sophomore feature, The Football Factory (2004), dealt with a group of football hooligans and their violent, day-to-day adventures. Love's fifth film, The Firm (2009), treads similar ground by once again putting us in the shoes of self-absorbed, rowdy men whose sole purpose in life seems to be starting conflicts. It's a loose remake of Alan Clarke's 1989 TV movie starring Gary Oldman, which Love admits was one of the primary reasons he got into filmmaking. The results are...well, interesting in some cases, and it's completely obvious that Love respects the source material. Good intentions aside, most folks should just stick with the original.
I'll admit up front that The Firm's subject matter is completely outside my real-world comfort zone: I've never watched an entire soccer-football match in its entirely, so the appeal of hooliganism is completely lost on yours truly. I mean, I get it: competitive sports and hometown pride can be a dangerous combination, especially in the mind of anyone with a broken moral barometer. Like an overprotective parent at a Little League game, living vicariously through athletes can and will lead to trouble. The Firm serves up trouble in spades as "Bex" Bissell (Paul Anderson, in the Gary Oldman role) leads the unruly West Ham United football firm into deadly street brawls with rival gangs. Aside from these brutal encounters, The Firm also follows young Dom (Calum Macnab) as he falls under the spell of Bex's lifestyle. Both have otherwise normal lives, at least on the surface, but something leads them to these acts of self-destructive behavior.
The Firm vaguely attempts to figure out the "why" at times, although it's mostly concerned with visual appearance. To be fair, the performances are uniformly solid, and this remake's shift of perspective (in contrast with the 1989 original, largely told from Bex's point of view) lends itself to some interesting moments along the way. But like the hooligans at its core, The Firm suffers from delusions of grandeur, thinking its doing something important while ultimately saying very little. Perhaps someone with a more fluent understanding of hooliganism---or, at the very least, a more dedicated sports fan---might get more out of the experience, but one thing's for sure: I doubt that most would prefer this remake over the original. See that one first...and if you like it well enough, you might enjoy Nick Love's take on organized crime.
While The Firm never technically got a domestic release on DVD or Blu-ray, a quick search at Amazon shows that Warner Bros. released a 2010 Blu-ray and it's listed as being region-free. I can't say if it's identical to this Twilight Time Blu-ray in the most important areas, but one thing's for sure: it's easier to get and about half price, so anyone on the fence may want to got that route instead. If you're dead-set on picking up this limited edition release, keep reading.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is, not surprisingly, as strong as you'd expect for a five year-old production. There doesn't seem to be any excessive digital manipulation here, allowing the film's rather natural, slice-of-life appearance to shine through. Colors are subdued by design...with certain exceptions, such as the vivid track suits that pop out from the backgrounds brilliantly. Black levels and shadow detail are also quite good and, despite the film's heavy use of hand-held camerawork, blurring and compression artifacts don't seem to be an issue at all. Overall, fans should be more than pleased with the source material used for Twilight Time's high definition release.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
Likewise, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track doesn't disappoint either. Dialogue and music are well balanced and the film's sporadic music cues---not to mention occasional rowdiness--spill into the rear channels as well. Still, The Firm is primarily a front-loaded affair and this mix preserves the experience nicely. An optional Isolated Score Track is also included in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio format, though it doesn't include the pop music cues. Sadly, Twilight Time has not included optional English subtitles, which can make some of the regional accents slightly difficult to decipher at times. With releases like this and Conrack, it seems as though we never get subtitles when we actually might need them.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
As expected, the menu interface is basic but perfectly functional and loads very quickly. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase, adorned with vintage poster artwork and a nice little Booklet
that includes production stills, promotional images and detailed liner notes by Twilight Time regular Julie Kirgo. Simple, effective and appropriate.
A fairly nice mix, though I'm assuming most everything here is also present on the 2010 Blu-ray
. The main attraction is a feature-length Audio Commentary
: the packaging advertises director Nick Love, but this session also includes actor Paul Anderson and technical consultant Lee Jackson. It's a no-frills and rowdy affair filled with all sorts of little production tidbits, personal stories and no shortage of goofing around. Cut from the same cloth is a general Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
(23:15) featuring Love, Anderson, actors Calum Macnab and Joe Jackson and several other key cast and crew members as they discuss the film's production, costume designs, "shooting a documentary" and much more.
Smaller scraps include a brief "Anatomy of the Fights" Featurette (6:36) which looks at the film's violent, kinetic street brawls, three Deleted Scenes ("Dom & Dad vs. Punks", "Sing for Mummy" and "Dom Confronts Punks") and an Alternate Ending (6:07 total), as well as the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:55). Like the film, no optional subtitles are included.
Taken on its own terms, Nick Love's loose adaptation of Alan Clarke's 1989 TV movie is a visually engaging, kinetic film that draws viewers in as easily as it pushes them away. But there's very little lurking beneath the surface, which translates to a crackling film with very little staying power. As in most cases, most viewers will simply get more out of the original. The same goes for Twilight Time's Blu-ray package: though no part of it is blatantly unimpressive (even the $24.95 price tag is lower than normal), Warner Bros.' region-free 2010 Blu-ray is easily obtained for roughly half price. Combined with the film's limited long-term appeal, you're better off looking elsewhere first. Rent It at the very most.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.