Sunday 5 May 2019

Movie Review: The Long Good Friday (1980)

A crime drama, The Long Good Friday offers a deep and character-rich story set in London at the cusp of massive change. Doses of jarring violence add plenty of verve.

It's Easter in London. Mobster boss Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) has kept the peace in gangland for the past 10 years and is eager to venture into respectable investments. With his partner Victoria (Helen Mirren) and chief fixer Jeff (Derek Thompson), they invite New Jersey Mafia financier Charlie (Eddie Constantine) to discuss a massive docklands redevelopment project, which also involves corrupt and frequently drunk city councillor Harris (Bryan Marshall).

But on the same day of the meeting with Charlie, Harold's people and businesses are targeted in coordinated attacks. His trusted lieutenant and closest friend Colin (Paul Freeman) is killed at a swimming pool, his Rolls Royce bombed in front of a church, and two other businesses attacked. Police detective Parky (Dave King), who is on Harold's payroll, is of little help. With Charlie's commitment wavering, Harold and Victoria have to quickly uncover who is behind the attacks and stop the carnage.

A gritty exploration of the overlap between crime, business and politics, The Long Good Friday mixes ambition with startling violence. Written by Barrie Keeffe and directed by John Mackenzie, this is an uncompromising dive into a sordid world: gangsters in suits, police officers on the take, and vendettas on London's streets. And when the time comes to reveal the brutality of men like Harold Shand, The Long Good Friday is unblinking. Rivals are strung-up upside down next to sides of beef, and the gaping wounds of traitors splurt blood.

At the heart of the story, the pugnacious Harold Shand is a remarkable character. Scrappy and visionary in equal measures, he carries echoes of his country and city at the cusp of colossal change. Just as Shand is looking to capitalize on his achievements by forging a more reputable legacy,  England is growing into a union with Europe and London offers swaths of opportunity in the form of waterfront redevelopment. The audacious projects Harold describes in the film came true in the 30 years following the film's release.

Emphasizing the deep desire for transition into respectable capitalism, here the Mafia is a potential investment partner. When explosions start rocking Harold's world, the New Jersey representatives are repelled: they are seeking a future of wealth through business, not bombs.

Bob Hoskins found his breakout role as Shand, and Mackenzie uses the actor to great effect. The cameras frequently linger on Hoskins' face, combustibility and intelligence vying for space as Shand assesses the latest setback and plans his next counterpunch. Helen Mirren is marginally underutilized, and the rest of the cast consists of robust character actors bringing London's underworld to life.

Despite the strength of Harold's conviction and dreams of a different future for man and country, political realities are a force to be reckoned with. This is still England of 1980, where Northern Ireland Troubles cast a long shadow over the nation. In an impressive display of breadth, The Long Good Friday seamlessly encompasses that conflict, Harold confronted with a final, mammoth and unexpected challenge on his difficult journey from the business of crime to the business of business.

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