We follow Cass from his early days in Britain, a black kid living with a white, elderly family, struggling with racism from his first days at school. We travel through his life as a football hooligan, a term in prison, running a business of bouncers for London venues, his shooting, recuperation, and his dealing with the violent past that just won't let go.
When the Government come down hard on fighting associated with football, Cass is made an example of and ends up doing time for fighting, given a harsh sentence he begins to look differently at life, something that changes even more when he returns to society.
It's when he leaves prison that he meets someone, and his beliefs and desires in life really do change. This is about the time he starts creating a legitimate business for himself and his friends, creating a business contracting bouncers to London clubs and pubs.
However it seems that his violent past just won't leave him alone, and some hooligans who want to make a name for themselves come after him. Can he escape his past, or will his past destroy him?
Cass is a surprisingly good film and one of the things that makes it so strong is that it doesn't concentrate on the football hooliganism and glorify it, or even try to make a huge deal trying to explain and understand it. Instead the film tells the story of this man's life, of which football hooliganism plays a large part, and looks at his character and his relationships.
It also does a great job of presenting the character of Cass in a sympathetic light, it makes him more accessible and interesting to the audience, and on the whole it brings the audience to his side for the film.
I find this interesting because it also means that we gloss over slightly the violence he engaged in during the football hooligan life, although some violent acts are shown, it always implies that the violence that Cass and his friends engaged in is, in some way, justified and that Cass is played as the good guy and victim through quote a large amount of the film.
Now I'm not saying that isn't the case, but it does seem that if we were to follow his life more closely, and without the need to bring the audience on board that the film carries, I suspect we'd see that sometimes the violent side is less justified and much more visceral than the film presents it. Of course we have to see the lead character in a sympathetic light in order for the film to be more appealing to the audience.
Despite that it does do a great job of not presenting any of the story or the messages in the retelling of Cass' life as straight black and white, or picking up the moral of racism or acceptance and ramming it down your throat. These sections are displayed as greys and are well written into the fabric of the story rather than smacking you in the face.
In fact these sections are presented as integral to the story and as matter of fact as they were when they occurred in his actual life. There's no real judgement made in the film, that's left up to the audience, we're shown how it affected Cass and how he dealt with it, and the rest is up to us.
We see that Cass did face a lot of hatred, not just that of racism from whites, but from blacks too, the hatred over his name, his footballing beliefs, and quite a number of other things in his life, but it's not what the hatred is that's the issue, it's how Cass deals with it and tries to better his life.
In fact one of the strongest aspects of the story are the relationships, and they really are laid out well. The relationship with the parents is perhaps the best, and through a few simple scenes his mother is drawn out well, and has a great actress in Linda Bassett. She gives a warm and compassionate performance where she really does bring out how much she cares for her son and how concerned she is for him in the real world. A performance that changes as Cass gets older and her concern becomes more about what he will do in the real world.
Personally, and I say this as a son, it's the relationship with the father that has the most impact. It's the inability of his father to make any sort of connection with him, played out on mainly on the physical level, and how he struggles to connect with his son, and yet at the same time shows such restrained emotion for him. Again, another strong supporting actor.
The relationships with his friends, who are also his closest allies in The Inter City Firm, I felt was never explored enough. We do get to see how close their relationships are and that it is more than just the football, a number of scenes bring this through to us but it's never entirely clear whether they follow Cass in his life or remain in their world of football hooliganism.
Cass himself is played by the extremely imposing Nonso Anozie very well, particularly when you see the additional material on the DVD which has the man himself talking on camera and the actor talking as himself. The difference is incredible, and I know that all actors go through transformations to play characters, but you so often actually see it in this bold a way, and Anozie really has captured the character.
It's not just the writing and acting that bring through these characters and the story well, but the direction, production design with the sets, locations and the clothes, these are done superbly, and even more so when you hear that they were done on such a tight budget.
The picture is definitely not Blu-ray quality, something that is explained a little later in the extras by the fact that they sourced different film stocks of each of the time periods that the story is based in. There's grain and texture throughout, which does seem more so at the beginning of the film. It does give a more realistic feel to the film and end ends up looking rather dated in places.
I'm not entirely sure why there's a high-definition audio track on the disc, for it doesn't feel that it really needs it, but there is and with a Blu-ray release I'm always grateful that the studio doesn't just throw standard formats onto high-definition releases. It is a good audio track for Cass that really does pull you into the crowds and the action, when the action is happening. It does sometimes make use of the speakers well too.
Audio Commentary with Director John S. Baird, Producer Stefan Haller and lead actor Nonso Anozie; Chris Pennant in his own words; Four Behind the Scenes Featurettes; Short Film: It's a Casual Life
Audio Commentary with Director John S. Baird, Producer Stefan Haller and lead actor Nonso Anozie
An interesting audio commentary that looks into a lot of work and issues behind the film itself. The three do have a good banter, but it doesn't get in the way of informing the listener, and they talk about filming, casting, the actors and actresses, the script, and the real story of Cass.
Chris Pennant in his own words
This is perhaps the most interesting featurette on the disc and for that reason I just wish there had been much more of it. We follow Cass through some of the real life locations that we see in the film as he talks about some of the events from his life that we see in the film, but in his own words. Although we do get to hear a lot from the man himself, it was so interesting to hear after seeing the film that I wanted to hear more. Another disappointment is that it's shot handheld. I would love to have seen this made a bit more professionally and covering even more of the film than it did.
Behind the Scenes: The Cast
All the principle actors and crew talk about the cast and how the actors perform. It's a good little featurette that coupled with the other featurettes and extras gives a good insight into the film.
Behind the Scenes: The Tear-Ups
This is a very short featurette that about the fight scenes and how they set them up and choreographed them. There's not enough of it frankly, and what we do see is interesting, particularly how they actually carried out the big fight scenes.
Behind the Scenes: The Prison
Another good featurette that is again a little too short but does have enough to gather your interest and provide for more behind the scenes insights.
Behind the Scenes: The Firm
This is an excellent short feature with plenty behind the scenes footage including some of the big names like Frank Bruno talking about the man and the film, as well as the director and crew. The picture throughout is grainy and raw just like the audio, however it's the content that is the best here.
Short Film: It's a Casual Life
A really good short film that has an interesting style to it, far from that of Cass. It tells the life of a football hooligan first hand, and while it does play out like a stage monologue, it's very engaging and delivers a good short. It's well filmed and written although the ending is a little weak and expected. It plays out well and doesn't compromise itself too much.
I don't often comment on the menus on DVD's, but Cass has a nice little style to them and reshows some of the footage of the film in an old style television set. Nicely done.
I really enjoyed the film because there's so much more to it than you might think there is when you look at the marketing. This isn't a film just about violence or football hooliganism, this is about a man and him finding acceptance and a life for himself when almost everyone and everything around him doesn't want him to. That acceptance he first finds in The Firm and football, but it's his own acceptance he needs to find in order to find peace in his life, and part of that is leaving his life behind him.
It's a great story that is really well told as the hooliganism and violence doesn't override the film but is told as an integral part of this man's life and how he finds that acceptance.
It's good that the Blu-ray has a strong transfer on audio and video, however I'm not sure it's really required with this film nor does it really take full advantage of it. The additional material on the DVD is good, although as usual we could do with so much more. Overall the Blu-ray offering is good and some credit has to be given for not just transferring directly from the DVD.
With strong actors, this great story, and an interesting backdrop that many will remember and connect with, Cass makes for a strong film and will make for satisfying viewing. It will even get you in the mood for reading some of the books that Cass has written about his life.