i.d. (1994)

D: Philip Davis
S: Reece Dinsdale, Richard Graham, Claire Skinner

Despite obvious intentions to the contrary, this film is best suited to educational screenings designed to provoke discussion among teenagers. Unfortunately, the levels of violence and profanity make this unlikely. A German-British co-production dealing with their greatest common social problem: football hooliganism, i.d. works well enough to stimulate debate, but falls short of the study of the inner darkness of the human animal it tries hard to be.

Arrogant but dedicated detective Reece Dinsdale is sent with three other officers on an assignment to penetrate the ranks of football hooligans supporting the fictional Shadwell Town. In the course of his assignment he finds that total immersion in character is beginning to affect his personal and professional life, and that perhaps deep down he is a hooligan too. He finds himself not only enjoying the camaraderie of the communal donnybrook more than the job of police work, but the thrill of combat and the sense of danger pushes him further and further away from the 'real' world and into a machismo fantasy which eventually destroys his ordered, civilised life and his relationships with 'normal' people, including his suffering wife, Claire Skinner.

A Taxi Driver type descent into the nether regions of the human soul lies not far from the surface of Philip Davis' film, but Vincent O'Connell's screenplay (based on a story by James Brannon) tends to go for the obvious at all points and forces dramatic confrontations which rationalise and over-expose the issues with heavy exchanges of direct dialogue. The result is never altogether dramatically engrossing, and the film becomes a studied exercise in public debate rather than a true cinematic treatise.

On these terms, it succeeds in raising plenty of questions of ethics, morality and concepts of loyalty and honour (even among brutal savages), but as Dinsdale's transformation becomes more and more complete, he systematically alienates every decent, moral character around him (including his partner, Richard Graham). This means that there is less and less dramatic tension even as the stakes get higher. We are then not surprised by his total rejection of society and eventual absorption by the neo-nazi movement. He is by too unsympathetic to care about anyway, and the result is a sombre nodding of head and stroking of chin rather than a frisson of recognition.

Part of the problem is Dinsdale himself, who is a little too unhinged to draw you in. Support from the rest of the cast, including Graham, Sean Pertwee (seen later in Event Horizon) and Saskia Reeves, is very good, and the film creates and sustains an authentic atmosphere. Yet there is a lack of a social context to this atmosphere, giving no real sense of the working-class milieu these characters are so eager to escape through their love of football. Dinsdale's rejection of a responsible, middle class life seems only so much childish stupidity rather than a real tragedy because of the totality of his retreat into what is essentially a fantasy world.

At one point, the film seems about to save itself from the obvious as he is drawn into the sinister edges of a criminal conspiracy to control hooliganism, but by then, the character has gone off the rails and chooses not to redeem himself, but to embrace this underworld in the name of a moral lesson for the audience. This is just too convenient to be frightening and only keeps the viewer further from the character than they need to be, with the result that there is nothing left to root for.

The film is nonetheless well made and engaging enough to sustain attention. It drops pace only towards the end and eventual boredom is merely the result of the loss of dramatic tension which comes with the certainty of knowing what's going to happen and why. Finally, i.d. is likely to earn worthy applause for its social value and be damned to use on media studies courses not as an exemplar of British or European cinema, but as a 'message movie' bereft of an aesthetic context and lurking hopefully on the fringe of something deeper.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1997.