Friday, 23 January 2009
"The hardest fight is knowing who you are".
Six weeks after birth, Cass Pennant was put into a Dr. Barnado's home, and went on to be fostered by a white couple in Kent where he was the only coloured person in the town. Pennant became the victim of bullies at school and on his way home; a situation made worse by his christian name, Carol. Soon Pennant decided to change his forename to Cass, after the boxer Cassius Clay. A reluctant student on the school of hard knocks, Pennant was introduced to football and began to follow West Ham United home and away. It was here that things started to turn round, with The Hammers' hooligan following offering him a second home amongst one of the country's most notorious firms and a chance to fight back and become accepted by those arround him. Tales of the infamous 'Mile End' mob had travelled the country for years, joined by another bogeyman: the Inter city Firm. For some, Upton Park - home of West Ham - became a virtual no-go area for following your team, and those who did make the trip were always assured of a warm 'welcome'. The name of Cass Pennant became legendary amongst rival firms, and now we have a film which has already been a great success on DVD.
Directed by Jon S. Baird, CASS takes us through Pennant's formative years; his first encounter with football violence, and his relationships leading to a shooting during his new career on the doors of clubs. As a bio pic, CASS often scores highly with Nonso Anozie's central performance soliciting emotion and admiration for a life punctuated by racism and a burning desire to eventually find redemption. Here, it's the quieter and more sombre moments that really hit home: his foster mother's funeral; the moving scene where Cass declines to read the letters sent by his 'real' parents, and his eventual friendship with a black guy sharing his cell all succeed in painting the picture as do solid performances from Nathalie Press as his partner, and Tamar Hassan playing an ex-con.
Unfortunately, the film does miss-fire on occasions. 3 rucks between rival fans fail to adequately convey football violence in truly graphic terms, compelling one to initially question the 18 certificate (although the ubiquitous presence of the word 'cunt' explains that one away)and footage of the appalling Margaret Thatcher and the Millwall riot at Luton are just a few of the directorial choices that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Still, CASS is, for the most part, a more than decent account of an orphan who rose to become a terrace legend and respected author.
Look out for cameos from the great Frank Bruno, and from actual firm members including Bill Gardener and Gilly from Wolves.