Writer: Barry Keeffe
Director: John Mackenzie
my local video store has been doing a huge liquidation of their stock over the last month or so and every now and then i will go in and check out the two huge containers of content that they are selling and see what i can find. on one of my first ventures into the abyss of films lines up one against the other i came across The Long Good Friday.
i had never seen it or even heard of the film before, but the dvd case caught my attention with the description of it as a classic british gangster film and all the glowing review quotes plastered on the front and back. throw in bob hoskins and helen mirren and the $4.99 price tag and i was sold... well folks, i definitely got my moneys worth with this one. in fact, given the low price i payed - in the words used by howie mandel, when the contestant sells their case for more than what was in it, on Deal Or No Deal, i "made a great deal".
bob hoskins plays, harold shand, the big boss man of the london underworld who is about to close a very lucrative deal with an american crime family that will be worth billions in years to come. however, that is when things start to blow up around him and some of those close to him are killed. why? who? how? are all questions that harold askes and is determined to find out before it leads to the end of his deal... wow, i didn't mean for that to sound so back-of-the-dvd-boxish. nevertheless, you get the gist of the story.
the film rides on the back of hoskins and he carries it beautifully. his performance is excellent and he brings shand to life as more than just a one-dimensional gangster. one minute he is almost in tears from the loss of one of his men and the next he is hanging his enemies upside down on meat hooks interrogating them about what has been going on. he has no problem using violence to solve his problems, but immediately asks "what is happening to me" when he violently pushes his girlfriend, helen mirren. hoskins never became a huge star in north america, but he has quietly put together a nice resume of films and performances, of which The Long Good Friday has got to be near the top.
what we have seen in the british crime flick niche over the last decade or so with films like: Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Gangster Number One, Sexy Beast and Layer Cake, are films that create a much more specific look and feel as they play with visual styles and/or story telling variations and conventions. what i found interesting about The Long Good Friday (having much more experience with this new breed of the british crime genre) was that the film doesn't do anything fancy or different with how it is filmed or how it tells the story. it is much more straight forward. and it works as such.
the opening scenes set everything up as we witness various killings and dealings that will be sorted out by the end of the film as shand finds out what has been going on. now, while these opening sequences did leave me a little confused - how could they not, given that at that point we are not given any information about anything - the writing is good enough that as things are revealed i was able to slowly piece things together as the information was discovered. also, the film doesn't rely on a big "reveal" or surprise to make you feel as if the journey was worth it.
also, i will say - without giving anything away - that the final scene is brilliant. i wouldn't be surprised if tony gilroy has this scene somewhere in his head when he filmed the final scene of Michael Clayton - although, while they are both similar in form, they are both very different in what they signify and the tone on which they end the film.
finally, one can't really talk about this film and not mention the music. unfortunately, while i'm sure it worked back in 1980, today the dramatic synthesiser music and some cheezy kenny g-esque moments tend to really date the film.
some people have called The Long Good Friday the best crime/gangster film after The Godfather. i don't know if i would say that, but i would say it is a worthy entry in the genre and one that has been overlooked by many - including me until a few hours ago.