1998, R, 96 min. Directed by Shane Meadows. Starring Bob Hoskins, Danny Nussbaum, James Hooton, Darren O. Campbell, Justin Brady, Jimmy Hynd, Karl Collins, Johann Myers, Anthony Clarke.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 8, 1998
Hoskins returns to form after toiling in the fields of poor career decisions with this grittily likable meditation on dispossessed British youth chafing against the yoke of Thatcherism. Hoskins plays Alan Darcy, a working-class stiff with dreams of renovating his unnamed town's decrepit boxing club and turning it into a youth hangout. Stuck with memories of his own past fisticuffs glories, the rotund, unceasingly affable Darcy sees this as his one big chance to make a difference in his community and maybe save a few lost souls in the bargain. Among the kids who grudgingly line up to learn the correct way to throw a left hook are Nussbaum's gangly Tim, a born leader with a hair-spring trigger and the drugged-out Daz (Campbell) who'd prefer to let it all slide away into a comfortable miasma of downers. While the story may at first glance seem woefully clichéd and excessively nostalgic (although no firm date is given, it's all firmly rooted in a mid-Eighties economically bankrupt haze), Meadows is a masterful director; many cast members were hand-picked, non-acting street kids, but Meadows has them working like old hands here, firing off dodgy barbs and getting on like old mates. Finest among them is Nussbaum -- even his quiet, contemplative moments onscreen seethe with the barely restrained explosive energy of a peeved football hooligan, though the entire group is refreshingly abrasive and half-cocked. Hoskins, for his part, turns in a brilliant, career-resuscitating performance here. Darcy drags his busted, rusty dreams around behind him like Marley's ghost, but his stubborn pride refuses to let him sink into the alcoholic stupor that has obviously claimed so many of his contemporaries. When he hits on the idea of the boxing club (with financial backing from a local loan shark), the twinkle in his cherubic eyes lights up his whole girth, making him look like some merry prankster on a mission from God. Of course, there's trouble ahead, there always is, but even when Darcy senses the wolf in the fold, he's still prepared to go the distance. Hoskins' edgy turn is backed by Meadows' stunning black-and-white camera work (by cinematographer Ashley Rowe), which at once softens the grotty, urban proceedings and highlights the resourceful, doomed events onscreen. Many films (and doubtless many more yet made) have tackled the impact of Thatcher's boisterous home policies on the disaffected British working class, though few have done it with as much heart and soul as Meadows. Love, hate, lager, and boxing: What more could you ask for?