Nick Love isn’t known for heart. The film which earned him his “From the director of…” title card, The Football Factory, is nothing if not violent, loud and not particularly critically well-loved. His follow-up, The Business, recasts Danny Dyer and sets itself in the Costa Del Crime world of 80s Spain and had a similarly rocky reception with reviewers. And yet he’s one of Britain’s better-known directors, suggesting he talks to an active audience of cinemagoers.
With The Firm, Love revisits themes present in both films — the 80s and football-fan violence — but has more in common with his lesser-seen debut feature, coming-of-age comedy Goodbye Charlie Bright. Early notices have been warmer than Love tends to receive from critics, with Empire declaring the film, “intense, exciting and impressive.”
RT caught up with Love to rundown his favourite films and chat about the flick.
“Clearly we’ll start here. I hope it’s fairly obvious, my adoration of it, but I think that what it represents is probably bigger than the actual film itself. It was the first film I’d ever seen that was really something I could identify with, so it has a big place in my heart and my mind. But actually, the more you went back and looked at The Firm, the more you could pick very small holes in it, you know. Whereas, obviously, I could talk about The Godfather, but there’s nothing you could find wrong with that — it’s a true masterpiece. What was amazing about the original Firm was Gary Oldman, and the brutality and the Steadicam and stuff like that. Because it was the first film that ever really affected me, it’s always going to have a place in my heart.”
“What touched me about that was the friendship. In a very weird sort of way there are some similarities between my films — probably pretty-much The Firm — and Midnight Cowboy, only inasmuch as it’s a hard world but soft characters. There’s something about that friendship with two people that transcends where the film’s set. I have friendships where you’re like two old women, nagging away at each other, and you kind of hate each other in a lot of ways but you’re inextricably embroiled with one another. That’s what true friendship is, you know. There’s such a tragedy about Midnight Cowboy as well and there’s such an amazing smell of New York in the 70s. It’s one of the few films where it transports you there and you can feel the environment.”
“It’s such a leftfield film for someone like me, but what is has is a very clear plot and it has two people trapped together inextricably. But what it does so well is that you laugh, you feel embarrassed, and then at the end — I cry my eyes out at the end of that film. Even thinking about it makes me upset. When Steve Martin is on the tube and John Candy gets off and he’s standing with his bag and he realises there is no one. It’s just such a beautiful thing. You can clearly see from Midnight Cowboy and Planes, Trains that there’s a pattern with me, and it’s really about loving other men – in a non-sexual way. It’s such a big thing for me — I value my friendships with my male friends. I’ve got a fiancé as well, and she’s certainly part of the action, but it’s a very different thing and you can’t get the same sort of friendship with a woman that you can with a man. And interestingly the filmmaking in Planes, Trains isn’t great. It looks so bad, it’s really televisual, but it’s got massive heart. ”
“You know what, I think I’m going to swerve The Godfather and go for The King of Comedy. I love Scorsese – I loved Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets — they were all really seminal, but I always like a film which is, if not leftfield it’s not obvious Scorsese. He has made less obvious films, like New York, New York or The Last Waltz, which don’t hit the mark for me, but King of Comedy is a gem I think. Curiously enough I was talking about it to my fiancé at the weekend, saying, ‘You’ve got to see it,’ because I think it’s where we are now as a contemporary celebrity-seeking society. There are Rupert Pupkins everywhere now. What they don’t have, that Rupert Pupkin had, is innocence and naivety. When you see the whole Big Brother world, the way that people are cloying to get famous now, that’s Rupert Pupkin. I remember when I first watched The Office I saw a lot of Rupert Pupkin in David Brent. Rupert Pupkin had such likeability whereas Brent is a toad – you want to watch him fail. With Pupkin you want to say, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t go to Jerry Lewis‘ house. Don’t tell Diahnne Abbott you know him — you don’t!'”
“It’s a toss-up because I love The Insider and, actually, Miami Vice as well. I’m going for Heat because, for me, when you’re really getting into a film is when you start imitating the characters and repeating lines and all that. I never really did that with Sonny Corleone but I did fantasise and think, God, how cool is Neil McCauley in Heat? It’s one of those movies that blew everyone away. In the mid-90s it was a very tired time, you know — a lot of the 80s panache had gone out of the movies and the early 90s was a period for me where I was discovering people like Almodovar. I was just bored of American films. Heat came out of nowhere. It was so muscular, so brooding and so clinically cool. Actually it’s long — it could have done with 20 minutes cut out of it I imagine — but that’s Michael Mann‘s condition. I haven’t seen Public Enemies — there was just something about it that stopped me, which is strange for me when it comes to Michael Mann. I went to see Vice the day it came out, first performance on the Friday. I was mesmerised by it. But Heat was such a powerhouse of a film. Even though I’ve inhabited the wrong side of the tracks in my life, I believe I’m still a good boy, a moral boy, but of course everyone roots for the bad guy in that film. DeNiro is just too fucking cool.”
Nick Love: I do think I’m understanding storytelling a bit better. How you don’t necessarily need to be blitzing people with loud noises, and machine gun fire and music. There’s a fair bit of music in The Firm, but there are lots of quiet periods in the film too. As you get more confident as a filmmaker you trust that more and you understand that two blokes sitting on a wall or standing on a balcony — you can hold that stuff.
NL: The thing is, I think whether you come from a country estate or a council estate, everyone can relate to adolescence. These characters, they’re not so despicable, they have a bit of charm and they can transcend class. [McNab’s character] Dom and his friends at the start of the film, they’re just boys, bickering and having fun and innocent. One of the things I wanted to do was that with the original film — it’s a brilliant film and one of my favourites — but I wanted to turn everything on its head. He came from a really lovely family — the mum and the dad, you really wanted to spend more time with them. You never really got enough of them in the film. And his friends were really nice. OK they were a bit divvy or whatever, but they were nice.
And rather than make it really social realism like he comes from a Bernados’ home, it’s more that he’s got everything right, so actually when he does start knocking about with Bex, if you didn’t understand the excitement of that then you’d really think, You’re a fucking idiot. You don’t think that until the end because there’s such a colour with The Firm, and they’re not all nasty boys. In the end, certainly, but in the beginning Dom thinks he’s cool. And so Jay’s cool and Trigger’s cool. They’re the top boys, and they’re fun. When they’re on the train to Portsmouth and they celebrate the train inspector rather than turn on him, that’s the world Dom sees.
NL: For me, there’s a narrative in the fights. You have to understand that Dom is getting bloodied at Portsmouth, and that’s about the thrill of it. It’s about being there, and it’s about the moment. And saying you were there. When they get run by Millwall, it’s all about Dom seeing it for what it is — the ugly side of it. The fight at the end, that’s Dom realising that he can’t go through with it. If you lose the narrative it’s just mindless action — there’s no emotional investment in it.
Bex (Paul Anderson, right) threatens Dom (Calum McNab)
NL: He was in The Football Factory. He was in it for about five minutes. He came in for an extra part and the guy who was going to play this small part dropped out. He had a good face, and I said do you, ‘Look, do you mind doing it?’ I had the camera in front of him, and I remember I went, ‘Are you ready?’ He said, ‘I was fucking born ready, mate.’ I was a bit disarmed by his confidence. I remembered him when I was thinking about this, just because of what he’d said. With Dom, the big thing always — and I felt it could have been a big search trying to find this guy — was that it had to be someone who you’d believe was innocent, but you’d also believe could go on this journey. Most actors can either do tough or fey, but to find someone who could knit that together I knew would be tough. What made it for me was screen testing him together with Paul Anderson playing Bex. They were really comfortable with each other. I thought if all else fails, if you believed in the two of them, you’d take something away from the film.
NL: Yeah, you see what he’s about at the beginning, but what’s great about Paul is that he played it, in a way, quite camp. It’s just those little beats that give you accessibility. If he was too cool for school, he’d be quite cold. Interestingly, Gary Oldman was quite camp in the original, although we stayed away from mimicking him. He puts on a lot of panto voices. It’s a very good way of seeing a feminine side, and if you’re seeing a feminine side you’re seeing a rounded side.
NL: The original genesis of the film was that it was going to be a straight remake, and Bex was going to be working for Foxton’s estate agents. He was going to go around in one of those fucking awful minis and it was going to be a modern-day Fight Club. It was only when I thought about telling the story from Dom’s point of view that I thought about making the film about casuals and how it would be if I set it earlier than the original rather than later. Then I started to get quite free with it, and it became more about honouring the original but making my own film. There’s a lot of me in Dom, someone who was always terrified of violence but attracted to the core.
The Firm is out in the UK on Friday.