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More Than Just Film

Dyer Diary 6: Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001)

All the great film noir, just about every Western and war film, Scorsese’s best work, and the majority of the action films from the 80s and 90s, to name just a few.

Boil them all down to their key components and you’ll see conflict driven by a male character’s inability to express his love for another male character, be it his brother, father, friend or enemy. Unable to put these feelings into words, relationships become poisoned by backed-up emotions which eventually find a physical form. Let’s not talk about sex (sex? we’re men, we wrestle!) but of violence; bone crunching, baseball bat-pounding, trigger-squeezing violence.

And add to that list the complete filmography of Nick Love.

Part 5 of Dyer Diary ended in the bleakest of circumstances as Love and Danny Dyer ended their professional and personal relationships with the awful dirge that is Outlaw (2007) and the humiliation that was their DVD commentary. But least we forget the much happier times they enjoyed together.

The Football Factory (2004) stunned the British film industry by making over a million pounds at the box office, The Business (2005) twice that amount. In an industry where an independent film selling 20,000 DVDs on release equates success, Love’s collaborations with Danny Dyer were a very big (and lucrative) deal indeed, whether you like it or not. Let’s flash back and see their relationship start as all great love affairs do; in a flourish of bright colours, youthful exuberance and a torrent of c-words.

Being a working class lad, Danny’s career as an actor had been dogged by the feeling he had nothing personally in common with 99% of the drama school graduates and ‘lovey’ directors he had worked with so far. But suddenly he was sat across from a young film director who had been raised on a South London housing estate, spoke like he did and said ‘cunt’ at least once per sentence. They hit it off immediately and Dyer soon became desperate to play Charlie Bright, the protagonist in Love’s début film. As this role had already been offered to Paul Nicholls (fresh from playing Joe Wicks in East Enders) he made do with small part of Charlie’s friend FrancisIt would have been cheeky to have pinched the lead of off Nicholls as he and Danny were friends after appearing together in The Trench and he had brought Love and Dyer together in the first place.

Propa cheeky.

Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001)

In a nutshell: Lifelong friends Charlie Bright and Justin (known as ‘the wife’) fill the long summer days rattling around a South London housing estate and going ‘on the prowl’; committing anti-social acts ranging from the playful (streaking through the estate) to the serious (mugging, breaking and entering). Charlie yearns to escape the estate but Justin is determined to keep things just as they are. Unable to say how they feel toward each other, the friendship unravels. And as this is a film about edgy yoofs, things between them are brought to a head when a gun and an overwhelming urge for revenge are thrown into the mix.

It’s hard to discuss the film for too long before you run into its failings. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and whilst Charlie possesses an easy-going charm, he is too passive for a protagonist. More importantly, most of the latter key scenes are unconvincing, making the overall viewing experience rather unsatisfying.

But I’m going to drop as few spoilers as possible as this film deserves to be watched. Even when it’s misfiring, Love keeps the action bright and breezy and the whole thing crackles with energy and vitality. In this respect, it’s closer in spirit to Spike Lee’s early films than the dour miserablism of British social realism. The most striking aspect of the film’s visual style are the hyper-vivid colours which bring the housing estate to life and give the whole project the feel of cherished memories of a long lost summer.

This sense of rosy nostalgia gives certain credence to allegations that the film glorifies anti-social behaviour. I don’t want to get drawn too far into this tricky area as it would involve discussing each character’s fate, thus spoilering the shit out of the film, and, frankly, I’m just too tired right now. I will say this though, I for one don’t want cinema to be as moralistic as a soap opera, where all bad actions are eventually met with a fitting punishment. In real life, lots of petty crime goes unpunished so it is fair to portray this in a film. But, if your characters don’t display or express any guilt for their actions, you’re leaving yourself open to these kinds of charges.

This is something I’ll talk about more when I come to discuss The Football Factory, a film which has been accused of not only glamorising hooliganism but leading to an increase in football related violence. From what I have read, the protagonist in The Football Factory spends much of the film questioning his behaviour and attempting to change his lifestyle. And whilst Charlie Bright dares to dream of leaving the housing estate and separating himself from Justin, I’d put this down to a sense of restlessness rather than guilt or regret.

How’s it for Danny? Francis is one of the film’s more interesting characters and undeniably its most empathetic. Once part of ‘the firm’ of petty criminals, his attentions have now switched to settling down with his girlfriend. Attempts to remain friends with Charlie are blocked by Justin at every turn; mockingly referring to Francis as ‘Romeo’ (a hint at how his love life will end up) and deciding that he and Charlie would rather go out on the prowl than celebrate the news that Francis is going to be a father.

Danny Dyer as frozen out Francis.

Francis has only half a dozen scenes but plays a key role in the film’s third act, requiring Danny to do much of the film’s emotional heavy lifting. It’s a performance which neatly encapsulates the whole film, for every great moment, there’s a duff one coming right up. His scenes with Charlie are very good – full of self-doubt, melancholia and deflating bravado – especially when Charlie feels compelled to do the right thing and tell Francis that his girlfriend hasn’t been totally honest with him.

When events begin to spiral out of control, key moments (centred on Francis) are fluffed resulting in a loss of dramatic and emotional momentum. Considering how he handled a similar range of emotions in The Trench so admirably only two years earlier, it’s surprising that Danny fails to convince here at critical moments.

Six films into Dyer Diary and it seems that Danny, like many other actors, depends on good directors to get the best out of him.  The trouble is, when you’re mainly making films on low budgets for the DVD market, your chances of working with good directors (as well as experienced writers and suitable marketing campaigns) is slight.

What’s it really about? Goodbye Charlie Bright looks at the bonding rituals of homosocial groups (primarily the firm but also the army) and how they offer the support and identity which was previously provided by local industries. They also provide their members with cash, keep them occupied and allow them to prove themselves in perilous circumstances. The focus is placed on the negative effects of these groups, which, for the firm, include trapping it’s members into living the same day over and over and preventing them from moving on. This is summed up by Charlie’s unhealthy relationship with ‘the wife’ which leaves him feeling frustrated, trapped and isolated.

The army is identified early on as the only route out of the housing estate and its negative effects are illustrated by Eddie, the Estate’s psycho nutter played by Phil Daniels, who is revealed to be a Falklands’ veteran. Eddie bears the mental scars of not only combat but also a failure to reintegrate back into society upon his return, something which he blames upon his dysfunctional family.

As I mentioned in part five, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw suggested that some of Shane Meadows’ kudos should have gone to Love. Whilst I can see where this is coming from – Goodbye Charlie Bright shares a lot of themes prevalent in Meadow’s films – on the evidence of the two Love films I’ve covered so far, Meadows is the better writer and director. He can do funny and sad with equal aplomb, his narratives always feels grounded in real life (as opposed to genre convention) and even his most overly-aggressive or pathetically passive characters feel real, fully rounded and strangely likeable.

So whilst I don’t buy into Bradshaw’s Love theory I will say something which would have been unthinkable several weeks ago…I’m kind of looking forward to watching The Football Factory and The Business. Dyer Diary is changing me, it really is.

Coming up in part 7, Vendetta, the film Danny rates as a major return to form and maybe the one which will finally change how the public perceive him.

February 2014

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