Mark Kermode - Foul play

Film - Two hard-hitting dramas about hacks and hooligans don't quite manage to score. By Mark Kermod

Although it pains me to admit it, there is little cinematic about the world of print journalism. Despite the snap-happy newsroom banter of hits such as Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, movies dramatising the dark art of the professional hack usually have to fall back upon eye-catching in-the-field research - from the war-torn Cambodia of The Killing Fields to the American rock stadiums of Almost Famous. Only Alan Pakula's All the President's Men managed to make men typing, mumbling on telephones and rifling through boxes of library cards gripping - the pay-off being that audiences knew from the outset that such apparently hum-drum fiddling would ultimately precipitate the fall of Richard M Nixon.

The efficient but empty Shattered Glass, which has been widely compared to Pakula's classic, boasts no such mighty conclusion. Instead, we are asked to be intrigued, even excited, by the downfall of a delusional American journalist who fancifully falsified "facts" in a string of essentially trivial zeitgeist articles for the New Republic in the 1990s. Typical features by Stephen Glass concerned young Republicans getting pissed at a convention (guess what, they're all animals), computer giants buying off anarchic teen-hackers (guess what, they're all buck-chasing bastards), and even phone psychics requiring nothing more than access to a Chinese Restaurant beer mat to ply their trade (guess what, they're all frauds). Hardly earth-shattering stuff and, as it transpired, hardly true - at least in the "just the facts" sense.

That such stories had currency simply because they reconfirmed the broadly liberal prejudices of their readers is perhaps a matter of intrigue, as is the flawed process of media "fact checking" that Shattered Glass exposes. Convincing, too, is the evocation of the world of magazine publishing in which Hayden Christensen's preppy Glass works his mischief. But despite the topicality provided by recent fabrication scandals involving USA Today and the New York Times, it's hard to see what's so compelling about this narcissistic fantasist's fall from grace. Indeed, in the wake of the politically motivated rubbishing of Andrew Gilligan to justify Britain's blundering entry into the Iraq war, Glass's deception hardly seems worthy of big screen attention. Although diretor Billy Ray has claimed that this story (which was best told in the pages of Vanity Fair) filled him with "dread and awe", British audiences hardened by the gladiatorial tabloid wars may be left neither shocked nor stunned by the revelations it offers. Next thing they'll be telling us that politicians lie!

There's a similarly depressing sense of pointlessness, albeit of a more visually arresting nature, about The Football Factory, Nick Love's head-kicking adaptation of John King's powerful novel about soccer hooliganism. Having never watched a football match in my life, I neither know, nor care, one iota about the game. Conveniently, neither does The Football Factory, which (despite the title) deliberately rules any fleet-footed footage off-side. Reinforcing the often-repeated mantra that hooliganism has nothing to do with football, Love's film shuns the stadiums in favour of the pubs, pavements and underpasses where various beer-bellied men drink, snort, swear, and generally kick the living shit out of each other, the fixtures table functioning only as a battleplan for punch-ups to come.

Owing more to the controversial Australian skin-head pic Romper Stomper than to such quaint home-grown footie-fare as Fever Pitch or When Saturday Comes (not to mention There's Only One Jimmy Grimble), The Football Factory flaunts a non-judgemental attitude toward recreational violence, although you'd have to be fairly twisted to find its depiction of getting a brick in your face for fun alluring.

Director Love and talented Director Producer[?} Damian Bromley get uncomfortably up close and personal with characters whose appetite for self-destruction is palpable - the pungent whiff of lager, piss and stupidity reeks through every frame - while reliable performers Danny Dyer and Frank Harper blend convincingly with the "real-life" thuggie extras.

It's in the broader picture, however, that things fall apart, with the peripheral female roles reduced to crass caricatures (the cliched "middle-class" girlfriend is worthy of the crappest TV sitcom) and Dudley Sutton's sketchy war veteran struggling to deliver a tokenistic anti-racism message. Dramatically, it's in an altogether lower league than Alan Clarke's 1988 drama The Firm, which remains the definitive work on the subject. As for the drum 'n' bass-accompanied violence, it may not trouble the intellect, but it will give you a headache.

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