Dom (Calum MacNab) is a working class teenager living in London sometime in the 80s. (The music on the soundtrack is early 80s but the clothing and the haircuts are all late 80s so who knows what the specific year is supposed to be.) A chance meeting with the charismatic Bex Bessell (Paul Anderson) leads to Dom getting involved with Bex’s football firm. A supporter of West Ham United, Bex and his group of football hooligans travel across the UK, engaging in fights with other firms. Despite the fact that their lives seem to be structured around it, nobody in these firms seems to really care much about football. Instead, it’s all about the fighting.
At first, Dom is happy to be a member of the firm. It gives him something to do in his spare time and the other members of the group all seem to like him. Bex takes him under his wing and soon, Dom is even starting to dress like Bex. However, as Bex becomes more and more violent and grows obsessed with defeating Yeti (Daniel Mays), the leader of a rival firm, Dom starts to realize that he needs to find a way out.
The Firm is a loose remake of Alan Clarke’s 1989 film of the same title, which featured Gary Oldman giving one of the best performance of his career as Bex. The original version was a character study of Bex, who was presented as being a newly minted member of the middle class and who was addicted to the rush of being a weekend hooligan. The remake focuses on Dom, who was a minor character in the original. If the original was meant to be a socio-political critique of the UK in the 80s, the remake is a coming-of-age story that almost feels nostalgic. Dom eventually realizes that being a football hooligan isn’t for him but the remake seems to suggest that he’ll always value the memories.
The remake can’t really compare to the original, mostly because the remake doesn’t have Gary Oldman’s ferocious performance or Alan Clarke’s focused and gritty direction. Taken on its own, though, the remake is not bad. Calum MacNab is likable and relatable as Dom and Paul Anderson gives a good performance as Bex. Anderson doesn’t try to imitate Oldman but instead brings his own spin to the character. At first, Anderson’s Bex seems as if he’s considerably more buffoonish than Oldman’s Bex but, in the context of the remake, it works. In the remake, it’s easy to underestimate Bex but give him a strange look or say the wrong thing and he’ll headbutt you just as quickly the Gary Oldman did to anyone who crossed him in the original. The remake doesn’t have the original’s political subtext. Instead, director Nick Love focuses more on historical nostalgia, stylized fight scenes, and the camaraderie that Dom initially finds in the firm. The fights in the original were brutal and not always easy to watch. The fights in the remake are exciting, up until it becomes obvious that Bex is losing his mind.
The remake of The Firm doesn’t do much to improve on the other but, when taken on its own terms, it’s a watchable story of football hooliganism.