Anchor Bay // 1982 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge George Hatch (Retired) // April 4th, 2006
"For more than ten years there's been peace -- everyone to his own patch. We've all had it sweet. I've done every single one of you favors in the past. I've put money in all your pockets. I've treated you well, even when you was out of order, right?
"Well now there's been an eruption. It's like fuckin' Belfast on a bad night. One of my closest friends is lyin' out there in the freezer, Eric's been blown to smithereens, Colin's been carved up, and I've got a bomb in me casino. And believe me, all of you, nobody goes home until I find out who done it, and why." -- Harold Shand
The Long Good Friday is a visceral, blistering, and ferociously violent crime saga of the London underworld circa 1980. Political subtexts (that I won't go into here because they are crucial to the plot) delayed its release for over a year, but when the film finally hit the screens, critics, and audiences alike hailed it as a bold cinematic event and declared it on a par with genre classics from Little Caesar to The Godfather. The film revitalized the British gangster film that had been languishing for a decade since Performance and Get Carter, both released in 1970. It also paved the way for a new crop of imports like The Krays (1990) and, more recently, Sexy Beast and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The Long Good Friday is a classic neo-noir with a plot more twisted than its characters and nihilistic overtones that portend disaster and the psychological collapse of its protagonist.
Mob kingpin Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins, 1978's Pennies From Heaven) returns to London with grandiose plans of revitalizing the decrepit Docklands along the Thames and making England the lead state of a new European market. He wants to move from being a gangster to a semi-legitimate businessman. He's about to close a mutually lucrative "hands across the ocean" deal with Charlie (Eddie Constantine, Alphaville), an influential Mafia rep from America, when his empire mysteriously begins to crumble around him. His right-hand man, Colin (Paul Freeman, The Dogs of War), is knifed to death in a bathhouse and another is killed in a car explosion intended for his mother. When a second bomb demolishes his favorite pub seconds before he arrives, Harold knows that someone is out to kill him or at least undermine his enterprise.
Victoria (Helen Mirren, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover), Harold's elegant and shrewd mistress, tries to smooth things over with the increasingly skittish American investor, but more death and destruction ensue. Harold reckons a rival gang may be trying to take over his "manor," but Victoria's intuition leads her to suspect members of Harold's own organization. Paranoid and clueless, Harold tells his sergeant-at-arms, Jeff (Derek Thompson, Resurrection Man), to scope out the group from the inside. Then he doubles the salary of cop-on-the-take Parky (Dave King, Reds) to probe it from the outside.
Harold Shand soon discovers that phantom forces are gaining ground and he's powerless to stop them.
Harold Shand said it himself, "I want to find out who done it." The Long Good Friday is as much a whodunit as it is a gangster film. Harold Shand is being pursued and attacked, but by whom? He's losing his organization and he's losing control, both physically and mentally. His gradual disintegration has a hint of Greek tragedy but it's decidedly Jacobean in proportion. Through bewilderment, betrayal and brutality, Shand becomes a typical noir protagonist. He knows there are malevolent forces moving in on him, he's desperate to find out who they are, and he feels powerless to stop them.
The Long Good Friday spans the 36 hours of Shand's deadly predicament that coincide with the Eastertide holiday. Religious overtones are prevalent with Shand as a kind of skewed Christ figure who is turned upon by his friends, is betrayed, and suffers for it. He even calls one character "Judas." Some time is spent with Harold's mother who is attending an elaborate Easter service in church and a brutal crucifixion caps off the imagery.
Primarily, though, The Long Good Friday is about greed. The film opens with a seemingly random montage, much of which follows a suitcase full of money as it changes hands. There are almost too many people to keep track of, but as their paths cross, the characters become more familiar to the viewer and pieces of the story begin to fall together. Harold Shand has such big ideas about global economic expansion, he needs an investor with long money and a lot of clout. Looking a few years down the road, Harold imagines raking in a few billion dollars a year.
Harold's also greedy for power. He likes to be in control and the bigger the organization, the more power he has. He's extremely crass and arrogant about it, too, so his mistress Victoria gives him class and sophistication, allowing him to expand his influence in the wealthier social circles in search of potential investors.
It's greed that makes Harold the target of an unknown enemy that constantly leaves him at a disadvantage because they seem to know his every move. The Long Good Friday moves at such a fast clip that you're caught up with Harold, getting one sledgehammer blow after another. You can understand his disorientation and his alarming slips into panic and rage. For all of his bluster and egomania, Harold is suddenly insecure in his own world. His corporation is rapidly becoming a financial miscarriage and he's being terrorized on his home turf.
The cast is superb with Bob Hoskins a standout as the runty crime lord. Hoskins plays Shand as a rabid pit bull, barking orders and snarling at his homicidal hooligans. His final silent 90-second close-up has earned legendary status. In his commentary, director Mackenzie explains how this memorable scene was done. "I wanted him defeated and defiant. I was in the front seat and talked him through his thoughts. I told him what to think and let him react." A myriad of expressions crossed Hoskins' face as the director dictated and it was all done in one take. Mackenzie goes on to say that he conceived of this ending even as they were working on the script. "It was the way the film was meant to end. That extended close-up."
The beautiful Helen Mirren fought to have the role of Victoria changed from a dumb tart to an intelligent and ambitious woman supporting Harold's self-esteem and promoting his ambition. Her fears mount along with Harold's, but she is able to maintain control and protect him from himself, at least for the time being. Mirren delivers a stunning performance, laced with elegance and centered in strength. European icon Eddie Constantine looks slick and threatening as Charlie. This was the first role in which he spoke his own dialogue. In those French and Italian epic-ettes that made him a cult figure, we're told that he merely moved his lips and dialogue was dubbed in later. As with Hoskins and Mirren, most of the supporting cast was drawn from British television and their outstanding performances and anonymity add to the film's realism. Early and late in the film, watch for a young Pierce Brosnan (in his first role) as a deadly assassin.
Barrie Keeffe's screenplay is a paradigm of economy, not surprising as it was written over the course of only three days! The plot is convoluted but so logically patterned that you are constantly amazed by the turn of events that comprise Harold's downward spiral. The dialogue is as tough as you're likely to hear -- I'm talking Jim Thomson-style. John Mackenzie (The Fourth Protocol) directed the film with sleek panache and unabashedly admits how many scenes were last-minute thoughts or completely improvised. Mackenzie has a wonderful narrative voice matched with the enthusiasm he still feels for his film. It's one of the best and most enjoyable commentaries I've listened to and should be of interest to anyone into low-budget independent filmmaking.
Anchor Bay has delivered the definitive DVD release of The Long Good Friday with this "Explosive Special Edition." All of the bells and whistles missing from the 1998 Criterion edition are here. The 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer is so rich in color and sharp in detail that it belies the fact that the film was shot on an incredibly low budget almost 30 years ago. The gritty, industrialized cinematography of Phil Meheux (The Legend of Zorro) looks spectacular. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo renders Francis Monkman's kinetic score vibrant and galvanic. The dialogue is crisp and clear, but some of the Cockney accents may be difficult to understand. Unfortunately, no subtitles are provided (the one grave oversight on Anchor Bay's part), but a "Cockney Slang Glossary" is included. I suggest you read it before watching the film.
Bloody Business is a solid 50-minute featurette about the making of The Long Good Friday comprised of film clips and new interviews with Hoskins, Mirren, Brosnan, and others involved in the production. As mentioned, there's a scene-by-scene audio commentary by director John Mackenzie that is both enlightening and illustrative, detailing the complexities of the film and how it all came together as a collaborative effort. Surprisingly, he says he can't stand blood, even in his own films. During a particularly brutal murder scene, he says he has to close his eyes. Go figure.
U.S. and U.K. theatrical trailers, cast biographies, and a poster and still gallery round out the extras. The screenplay is also available as a DVD-ROM bonus -- a surprise and welcome inclusion. And an eight-page insert features an informative essay by Richard Harland Smith that puts The Long Good Friday in perspective with other British gangster films from the 1940s to the present.
The Long Good Friday hits you like a blowtorch in the face, a broken bottle neck in your throat, and a couple of machete whacks across your bare ass. The film's violent moments are as shocking today as they were over 25 years ago. It's not only the amounts of blood; it's the random unpredictability. The fact that the story is character-driven makes the violence all the more palpable and disturbing.
If you bought the Criterion release, it's time to toss it out. Anchor Bay has delivered the goods.
Review content copyright © 2006 George Hatch; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #63
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "Bloody Business: Making The Long Good Friday"
* Commentary by Director John Mackenzie
* Cockney Slang Glossary
* U.S. and U.K. Trailers
* Poster and Still Gallery
* Talent Biographies
* Screenplay on DVD-ROM
* Eight-page booklet about the film
* Spotlight on British Gangster Films