Simply premised, a Harvard drop-out (expelled) visits his sister in London has a chance encounter with an in-law who takes him under his wing and introduces him to organized British hooliganism, the Firms-in this case the Green Street Elite, wrapped around the fanaticism of Football (that sport we call in the states Society Football; or SOCCER). But the film is not about Football or the violence attached to the Firms. It's deeply entrenched in primal man-the tribal man of the village. Margaret Mead would be quite at home (rest her soul) observing the rival firms standing and riling each other, much like Neanderthals at a Mammoth hunt. The script wanders a bit on a thin plot, but allows the message to be clear. When you share a central bond with villagers and stand your ground, you have invested your soul in the collective reputation of the tribe. Outsiders, who lack this, are mere wimps.
Elijah Wood as the Yank, Matt Buckner is superb as he grows a pair of balls over the length of the film. If you don't mind seeing everyone's favorite Hobbit have the stuffing beat out of him, and scrapping like the Dickens and enjoying the violence incrementally, you'll be okay. The acting job is sterling and filled with the steel that overtakes the character. His mentor, Pete, played by Charlie Hunnam, rushes like a river through the work, giving it buoyancy. Hunnam's cockney cleverness and leadership keeps the film alive and crisp, never a boring moment. In fact, the violence, which is not gratuitous, but organic to the work, draws you in to take a good look. This is the real stuff and we want to see Elijah Wood slam and get slammed, and Charlie Hunnam lead the tribe to victory. Of course, there are villains and naturally, a moral twist as the simple plot and theme gets aced by human failures, which drains all the nobility from the initial premise.
Excellent performances are delivered by Leo Gregory who plays Bovver, the fly in the Firm's ointment; and Geoff Bell and Terrence Jay, the bad guys, each on opposite sides of the pond draw our our natural tendency to hiss on cue. Claire Forlani as Matt's sister delivers a credible performance, trying to match Elijah Wood with Buckner family nuances. Lexi Alexander, in her first directorial credit, does a splendid job handling angle and shot, many of which are iconic and deliver memorable punches, much like Elijah's Wood facial essays, which dot this film more than his others.
Rated R for language (not only the proverbial F word, but also a bushel of the more offending C word) and mild drug use, the only thing this film lacks is sex-and if it were included, that would have been gratuitous. With strong performances from all cast members and particularly from their flagship, Elijah Wood, this is one film that may not be for all young Hobbits, but (I predict) will linger in the halls of film favorites for years to come. The film that Hollywood doesn't want you to see should be seen as often as possible, if not for the brilliance of the work, for no other reason than a firm vote of confidence for all grass roots efforts in the world of the creative arts. A+