Skinny, wide-eyed Elijah Wood becomes a tough guy in his own Fight Club when he joins a soccer ''firm'' in London. The Brits are sniggering at it, but pretty-boy-turned-gang-leader Charlie Hunnam offers a career performance.
Promising journalism student Matt Buckner (Wood) gets tossed out of Harvard for taking a drug rap for his highly privileged roommate, the son of a governor. He knows he can't fight the charges, so he heads to London to visit his sister (Claire Forlani) who's married and has a child. Their absentee father (Henry Goodman) is a foreign correspondent, and Matt can't reach him to tell him of his expulsion. Meanwhile, he meets Pete (Hunnam) the crass and unsophisticated brother of his new brother-in-law Steve (Marc Warren). Steve sends Matt off with his brother Pete, with a bribe, to show him one of England's best cultural event--a football match (that's soccer to us Yanks). That trip results in Matt's involvement in the Green Street Hooligans, a gang or ''firm,'' as they're called, that supports the local team and pounds each other in violent street battles. Matt learns about camaraderie, loyalty, machismo and street fighting, as well as realizing he can pack a wallop when called upon. He's getting a reputation for being tough, but things get more complicated as Matt becomes the sole American in the Hooligans as well as the fact he's hiding that he's a journalist. The firms don't take kindly to the tabloid types.
We know Wood as Frodo Baggins, the hobbit of the Lord of the Rings movies, and Hunnam is known as the pretty boy from the British version of Queer as Folk and Nicholas Nickleby. But in Green Street Hooligans, both of them dirty themselves up a bit. Hunnam is the standout, showing his true acting chops with his close-shorn hair and spontaneous mean streak. He's smart and multi-dimensional, alternately showing his rough side as a gang fighter, and then his sensitive side as a schoolteacher and football coach. Wood isn't nearly as believable as a street thug, but he's adept at playing the fish-out-of-water roles. Warren is noteworthy as the brother-in-law with a secret, and Leo Gregory puts on quite a performance as a police lieutenant suspicious of Pete. The supporting cast looks like they were taken right off the streets of West Ham.
Director and co-writer Lexi Alexander does a nice job showing the British versions of gangs, and their bloody street fights. Americans may be shocked by the senseless violence surrounding a sports franchise (or maybe not), but it's realistic. The British press, however, are vilifying this film because it's too cleaned up and doesn't accurately show the ''yob'' subculture. But if Hooligans is viewed for its brutal but effective fight scenes, as well as a window into machismo, then its not disappointing. It gets a bit corny at times, and heads in a predictable direction, but it remains captivating partially because of the handheld cinematography by Alexander Buono. The film shows how the sense of belonging and desire to bash heads can become addictive among the guys in the pubs who don't have much to lose.
Who cares if the lingo isn't accurate, or if the ''firm'' violence is exaggerated? Green Street Hooligans is still a good fight movie that spotlights a different culture.