Watched Aug 30, 2012
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Jeremy Heilman said:
In the last seconds of The Firm, it is revealed that the hooligans who are unconvincingly attempting to ascribe post factum meaning to the death of Bexy are now participants in what appears to be the same sort of social issue documentary that Bexy himself called “a load of crap” in an earlier scene. What to make of this bit of self-reflexivity?
I suspect that Clarke is using this rhyme both as a defense of his methods as a fiction filmmaker who engages with real-world issues and to suggest that he’s after something more complex than the easy thesis offered by the host of the television documentary that the characters watched earlier. While outwardly a narrow “social problem” film about sports hooliganism, The Firm’s style as well as familiarity with Clarke’s other output suggest that he’s attempting a larger problematization of British society. Indeed, the most senseless thing about the narrative’s senseless but systematic escalation of violence (likely intended as a metaphorical reflection of Thatcher’s equally senseless crusade against the IRA) is that the middle-class Bexy is educated enough to have obtained a position as a real-estate agent and self-aware enough to turn a mini-lecture about sociology and peer pressure into an ironic, self-mocking threat.
The repetition that sets in as these generally productive members of society are shown engaging in rituals of verbal squabbling and planned assaults reveals it as a performative form of aggression, perhaps to the point that it suggests that Bexy’s deceptive sales tactics in the first scene are borne out of much the same impulse. Capitalism’s rat race encourages and rewards competition at the expense of others. In the contest to determine which firm of soccer supporters will travel to Europe, the gloves really come off. One wonders if Clarke proposes hooliganism as a manifestation of a tendency that is encouraged by capitalist competition or a release valve from these tensions. Either way, I am reminded of Debord’s concept of the society of the spectacle when Bexy explains that he must pursue Yeti because he needs “the buzz.” Sports, intended to pacify the masses, aren’t doing the trick any longer. Despite Bexy’s childhood shrine, these superfans seem to spend little time worried about football itself. Hooliganism becomes a logical but grotesque extension of the distraction and release that sport provides.
While The Firm seems single-minded at times, Clarke’s visual language situates these characters into a definite milieu, damning more than their crude actions alone. Using what feels like an overreliance on single-character camera setups, Clarke routinely stages tracking shots that follow these men along city streets (most amusingly when one tracks Bexy on the short trip from his wife’s home to his parents’), into various pubs, to their jobs, and into their homes. A wide socio-economic swath is observed over the course of the film, and this tendency to situate the hooligans in very identifiable surroundings lessens the feeling that we are watching a structuralist or abstract study in violence (such as Clarke’s Elephant or Contact) and intensifies the impression that these young men are products of the place they live in. Ironically, in its presentations of uninterrupted cinematic spaces, the fictional passages of The Firm achieve both a verisimilitude and a spontaneity that eludes the last scene’s self-serving “documentary” eulogy.