CASS is the impressive debut feature from British writer-director Jon S Baird, based on the autobiography of Cass Pennant, an infamous football hooligan. The movie is constructed in a fairly straightforward manner and is well-acted throughout.
We first meet Cass as a young black kid adopted by white parents in a rough part of London. Linda Bassett and Peter Wright are impressive and believable as the parents - the mother a strong, morally upright woman without being priggish - the father, a quiet, passive type whose only bond with his son is watching soccer matches - not the most forgiving environment for a black kid. Cass is an angry boy. He speaks like a white kid, but knows he's different and acts out because of it. It's unsurprising that when he's accepted by the football hooligans, and gets a sense of belonging and respect, he thrives. Violence becomes a way of life, and it's clear that Cass is clever and charismatic. When he's interviewed by a patronising middle-class TV reporter he turns the table on her with his articulate defense of hooliganism. If the working classes want to vent their frustration by beating each other up in a controlled environment, what's it to anyone else? And aren't the middle-classes more to blame for their leering voyeurism? Cass' life changes when he's put in prison and starts exploring his black heritage. He comes out and turns straight - well, semi-straight - running security for clubs, but finds it hard to put the old life behind him.
Nonso Anozie is charismatic and convincing as Cass, and the movie realistically depicts 1980s and 1990s London - the sets, costumes, language and scenery are spot on. I found the portrait of British race-relations compelling - and it resonated with my memories of that period. This is an impressive feature debut and I look forward to watching Jon S Baird's next film.
CASS opened in the UK in August 2008 and is available on DVD.
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