Director: Jon S. Baird
Cast: Nonso Anozie, Natalie Press, Tamer Hassen, Leo Gregory
Plot: The true story of Cass Pennant, a black kid growing up in London, who only finds acceptance in the brutal West Ham football firm. However, as Thatcher closes in on football violence, he faces the downsides to the life of a British Gangster.
Cass is based on the memoirs of the eponymous British gangster, Cass Pennant, who renounced his football hooligan ways to settle down with his family. His story is an emotional, brutal one and one fit for the big screen, giving the audience an insight into the brutal background of football violence.
The story opens with Cass as a bullied school-kid, struggling with the colour of his skin. Instantly we pity the boy, as he tries to scrub the colour from his own arm. We fast-forward pretty sharpish to his teenage years, where him and his only two mates, get caught up in a football fight under the bridge. For the first time, Cass becomes a respected figure, finding a talent in beating people up. He grows up under the family of the ICF, ending up one of the organisers and most feared names in the hooligan world. Eventually, he falls in love and realises that if he wants to keep his family safe from people he pissed off in his youth, he needs to give up his life of crime, something that turns out to be harder than it sounds.
The first thing to comment on Cass is the actor who needs to live up to this feared British gangster, Nonso Anozie. He is an impressive figure, standing taller than all of his co-stars. It is almost amusing when he is sitting opposite Natalie Press on a first date, hunching over a small restaurant table. Anozie helps the tough job of putting this violent hooligan in a positive light by making him as friendly as possible. This isn’t about mindless violence, it is about family. There are some good scenes, when Anozie rattles out monologues where he genuinely doesn’t understand the criminal nature of what he is doing. It is not until his son comes along that he realises his life is a self-destructive one, as evidenced by his choice closing line. Anozie is the kind of actor that you recognise, but are not quite sure from where (the answer is bit roles in ‘RockNRolla and ‘The Grey’ by the way). It is undeniable that he has talent and I hope he gets more jobs in the near future.
Although entertaining, this film is held back by the fact that it is a true story. It starts strong with some bloody football fighting scenes. However, the moment where Cass questions his life during his prison sentence is, if not necessarily bad, a massive drop in pace. The film never really recovers. His relationship with Elaine isn’t really built up enough (they get together and then the film jumps through their life together, until she has two kids). However, there isn’t really time for this, because the film needs to crack on with the final act, where the morals come into play. The final act should be the most interesting, echoing Godfather and the struggle to break away from a life of crime that keeps dragging you back in. However, seeing as director Baird has to work with the real person of Cass, he can’t mould the character’s internal struggle to suit the ending. Therefore the film comes across as routine rather than a true character piece in the life of British crime.
Not that it’s completely out of Baird’s hands. There are a couple of missed tricks here. Mainly, Baird just tells the story, rather than making it his own. Sure, it’s a true account, but some slick directing could have helped the film. It’s not like it is out of Baird’s league. There are some quick cuts that are impressive and the one scene where Cass imagines an Arsenal rival pointing a gun at him in the mirror is nicely done. More of these little shots would have made the film feel quicker and solid. As it happens, I was reminded of a theatre production rather than a film. There are a lot of kitchen sink drama moments, which, admittedly, is comfortable for the British actors, but not particularly exciting. Anozie’s expositional narration also feels like a jump in time not alien on the stage. These little flaws don’t really get in the way of the film, but stop it from being a break-through biopic.
My one other gripe is the twist being revealed at the start. Therefore, I do not need a spoiler warning to tell you the film opens with Cass getting shot by a rival. Why? Seeing as Cass Pennant is alive today, there is no suspense as we wait to see if he survived the attack. If the shot was kept in the shadows, it might have been the jolt of life the film needed nearer the end. As it stands, this self-spoiler does little else other than promise some gun violence later on in the film, a promise that Cass doesn’t really live up to.
Final Verdict: A gripping true story about one of the leading figures in British crime. Although not as slick as it could have been, it remains a solid piece of story-telling.