Alan Clarke's study of tribal violence starring a rarely better Gary Oldman
Since his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 54, Alan Clarke has been something of a perennially underrated figure in the landscape of British cinema history, perhaps partially because the majority of his work was made for television. Thanks to the efforts of a massive restoration project, the BFI has made the complete collection of Clarke’s BBC output available via Blu-ray box-set, with 1989’s The Firm, perhaps the most famous of this lot outside of Scum, also getting a separate release of its own.
At the centre of Clarke’s portrait of hooliganism and men failing to outgrow violent fantasies is one of Gary Oldman’s finest performances as the ferocious Bex, who projects outward respectability (nice house, estate agent job, seemingly stable family) under which lurks a barely suppressed creature of fragile masculinity and senseless rage; fighting not for an actual cause of note, just for the 'buzz'. Clarke is very keen to emphasise that the sport of football actually has nothing to do with the tribal sparring, as memorably and chillingly hammered home by one Steve 'Phil Mitchell' McFadden in an almost fourth-wall breaking finale: 'If they stop it at football, we'll go to boxing, we'll go to snooker, we'll go to darts...'
As this individual release of The Firm is essentially a replication of one disc from the BFI’s big box set, the package also features a few special features unrelated to the film’s making. Chief among these is Clarke’s haunting Elephant from the same year. An undeniable influence on Gus Van Sant’s Columbine massacre drama of the same name, it depicts a series of abrupt murders in Northern Ireland with no clue as to exactly who is responsible, and is virtually wordless for its entire 39-minute runtime; a succession of brutal killings depicted with Kubrickian Steadicam. Danny Boyle and Mark Kermode provide a commentary for Elephant, while among a pair of commentaries for The Firm is one with Gary Oldman for Clarke’s previously unreleased director’s cut.
Released by the BFI on a special Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD