The Long Good Friday
Details: (R18+), 110 mins, English
Synopsis: Mobster Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is the all powerful boss of the London underworld, who beneath a gentrified veneer is all snarl and menace. On one fateful Good Friday, the day Harold is to close a crucial deal with an American organised crime group, Shand finds his empire suddenly under attack. Somebody has killed two of his henchman, tried to murder his mother and blown his favourite pub to smithereens. And somebody's going to pay.
A crime classic.
As entertaining today as it was during its acclaimed theatrical season 30 years ago, John MacKenzie’s The Long Good Friday came to represent a turning point in Britain’s modern film history. Following its release, the nation’s filmmakers, mired for so long in a fund-less industry, were freshly inspired; films such as Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (1980), Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (1981) and Lewis Gilbert’s Educating Rita (1983) eventuated in the crime thriller’s wake.
The Long Good Friday was a fresh spin on an old tale. With the classic cop shows The Sweeney and The Professionals portraying the good guys as being as hard-edged as the crims, The Long Good Friday went the other way – painting a portrait of a gangland boss with a moral core, however off-centre it may have been.
Stepping up to lead status after nearly a decade of knocking around in support roles and TV series, Bob Hoskins became a star overnight as Harold Shand, the old-school London crime boss at the centre of Barrie Keeffe’s stinging, blackly-comic script. A man who envisions the 1980s as a decade of enormous potential for his beloved city, Shand has US crime bosses and high-ranking police officials in his pocket, to ensure that his investments pay off and that his underworld syndicate gets the lion’s share of the wealth.
But the wheels fall off as Shand readies to make his move – his lifelong friend (and, by implication, former gay lover) Colin (Paul Freeman), is murdered; a car bomb, intended for his mum, kills a henchman at his local church; his restaurant is levelled by explosives. Rounding up those that might make a play for his criminal crown, he strings them upside-down in a meat locker and interrogates them, in what has become a classic scene. But the attacks continue, and Shand becomes increasingly paranoid as to the motivations of those in his inner circle.
Hoskins is in every scene and switches effortlessly from professional businessman to violent gangster, to loving husband of Victoria (Helen Mirren). Though very much raised in the world of crime, his Shand seems genuinely astonished when the even playing field of London’s underworld, that he has worked hard to establish by tough but fair means, is challenged. Hoskins’ audio-commentary on the DVD provides tremendous insight into how he created Shand (by fusing research with the memories of his own tough upbringing). Harold Shand ranks alongside his Oscar-nominated role of George in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986) and his gumshoe Eddie Valiant in Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) as Hoskins’ finest screen work.
Moving along at a cracking pace and full of wonderfully dry humour that offsets the violence (“You don't crucify people! Not on Good Friday!”), this slice of gangland life was cut from the same cloth of traditional British crime films like Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971), and can be seen as the inspiration for subsequent films like Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1999), Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000) and Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008). Hard to imagine the remake, currently in pre-production and slated for a 2011 release, topping the electrifying chemistry Hoskins, Mirren and MacKenzie tapped with this timeless stunner.
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