Newest Review: ... just an act; memorising facts & figures with no real interest in football, but as the investigation goes on their behaviour deteriorat... more
I love you, Gumbo!
Member Name: Belgian999
Date: 12/09/01, updated on 12/09/01 (8134 review reads)
Advantages: Quite an accurate portrayal of hooligan culture, examines psychological effects
Disadvantages: Some apects are less than credible
Made in 1995, this movie is set in the harsh industrial areas of the Isle of Dogs in East London, and follows four detectives from Shadwell CID as they go undercover and attempt to infiltrate the murky, violent world of the hooligans who follow Shadwell Town FC. This club is a very thinly-veiled depiction of Millwall – the real club hails from the same area of London, shares a reputation for violent supporters who cause trouble wherever they go, their nickname is ‘The Lions’ and their old ground on Cold Blow Lane was known as ‘The Den’. Shadwell revel in the moniker of ‘The Dogs’, their stadium is called ‘The Kennel’, and the fans in this film get involved in countless acts of violence in and around football grounds all over England.
Reece Dinsdale plays the role of John, who sees this undercover assignment as the ideal way to get himself a promotion, up and out of Shadwell CID – his superior is Trevor, a uniform sergeant, but it soon becomes clear the John is the one taking a leading role in the investigation. Indeed, Trevor is, for me, the major weak point in the film, as he is such an unbelievable character. Someone acting like he does (and wearing an anorak like that!) would not have lasted 5 minutes under the scrutiny of the violent thugs that the policemen have to deal with here. His actions and manner of speech all stand out a mile from the people he is supposed to be blending in with, and while John does effectively submerge himself in the life of the East End hooligans, Trevor never looks vaguely comfortable. Perhaps the intention was to make him seem like an obvious copper, so that the Dogs’ fans would have some reason to suspect that these new fans were not what they seemed, the effect was not convincing at all.
However, as the film progresses, John and Trevor realise that to make any inroads at all into the criminal fraternity behind the violence, they have to get accepte
d at ‘The Rock’, the pub near the ground, which they suspect harbours the worst of the hooligans – and the landlord, Bob, does nothing to dispel this feeling. He is played superbly by Warren Clarke, who fits the role of a threatening, tattooed skinhead to a tee!
The continuing infiltration of the hooligan culture has many effects on the private lives of the policemen involved as well, and I think this psychological pressure is more effectively portrayed than the actual scenes of football violence. Early in the film, all four men are seen having dinner with their wives, eight friends sat round a table enjoying a night out. But very soon, the mens’ drinking escalates, their behaviour deteriorates, Trevor’s wife leaves him, and John becomes more and more unpredictable, and more like the people he is supposed to be fighting against. Some of the scenes featuring him at home with his girlfriend are quite harrowing, especially as their relationship disintegrates and he gradually becomes involved with Lynda (Saskia Reeves), the barmaid at ‘The Rock’.
The pub does prove to be the perfect place to find the ‘top boys’, the hooligans who mastermind all the trouble at Shadwell Town games – they are led by Martin (excellently portrayed in a very dangerous, unstable manner by Sean Pertwee), and feature the classic character of Gumbo, the greasy-haired toothless imbecile who earns peanuts and spends them all watching Shadwell and getting drunk after the games.
As time passes, the policemen start to take an active involvement in watching Shadwell, whereas before they just memorised facts and figures to fit in. They become fans, and the men they are intending to prosecute become friends. This is where the lines become blurred – where once they would not get involved in the violence they were observing, now John clearly gets a buzz from the fight. He sinks deeper and deeper into the mire, culm
inating in a frightening knife fight in a marketplace after one particularly hostile away trip, and despite all his protestations afterwards, you feel that he has crossed his own personal Rubicon.
This is quite an accurate look into the world of football violence, but while critical response centred on that aspect, I think it is far more effective when looking at the mental effect that the undercover work has on the policemen involved. They bear no physical marks, but they are still scarred for life – and it seemed completely incredible to me that Trevor and the other men would be reassigned to uniform work in Shadwell, the very same area in which they had worked undercover for months on end. Surely that would be far too dangerous? However, the concluding scene in the film, while a little exaggerated, does have the desired dramatic effect – is John really still undercover, or has he crossed over and joined forces with the very people he was supposed to be bringing to justice? It certainly makes you think, and the final chilling image begs you to remember the advertising tag line for ‘ID’: When you go undercover, remember one thing. Who you are.