Image Entertainment // 1980 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 30th, 2010
Who lit the fuse that tore Harold's world apart?
In the pantheon of gangsters, the Italians, the Russians, and the Japanese are famed from their exports in movieland. Sure, in American film, we have the occasional Irish or Jewish gangster, but most movie gangsters are Italian, Russian, or Japanese. The truth, though, is that wherever there's any kind of prohibition -- on drugs, gambling, prostitution -- there will be a criminal element seeking profit. In 1960s London the face of organized crime was actually two faces: the Kray twins. Reggie and Ronnie ruled the London underground with the most iron of fists while passing themselves off as prosperous nightclub owners, a role which allowed them to hobnob with the biggest celebrities of the day including Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, as well as a few British MPs. Eventually they went down for murder, but not before imprinting London's underworld with a fashionable sense of how a gangster could and should act. Because of their legacy, they've been immortalized (mostly under different names, and rarely as twins) in countless films. One of the best of those films is The Long Good Friday, which established Bob Hoskins as an actor to watch for an international audience. Now Image has released the film on Blu-ray, trumping the previous DVD edition in audiovisual terms, but offering nothing in the way of extras.
Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins, Unleashed) has been singlehandedly holding the London underworld together peacefully for the last decade. By giving everyone a fair piece of the pie, he's staved off infighting and even managed to get the coppers in his pocket. On the eve of the 1980s, though, Harold's sights are set a bit higher: he wants to get into real estate development on London's waterfront in a big way. To that end Harold has invited an American associate to see his operation in the hopes of receiving some outside support in his bid for real estate-based legitimacy. Naturally, this goes to pot. Harold's mum's car is blown up, a number of his associates disappear, and things seem to be falling apart. With his American friend to impress, Harold must figure out who is behind his recent troubles and deal with them in his usual, brutal fashion.
The Long Good Friday is an interesting little film. It plays, in pacing and in conceptual depth, like a European film. Its brutality, its cinematography, and its acting seem much more like an American film. In either case, The Long Good Friday plays out, in the best possible sense, as a highlight reel of 1970s action/crime cinema. There are tense moments of dialogue in interesting locations and action set pieces that are simply fantastic, and it's all wrapped around a morally ambiguous and driven sociopath. It is also an absolute winner, from the opening that plays like a silent film until the final moments when Harold's fate is realized.
Although the film is obviously steeped in a mastery of action and gangster cinema, its real strength lies in the acting. Bob Hoskins rightfully took his place on the international stage after his portrayal of Harold Shand. Rumor has it that the Kray twins themselves wrote to Hoskins to congratulate him on his verisimilitude. It's not hard to see why. Hoskins plays Shand as a charming sociopath, an upwardly mobile gangster capable of hobnobbing with politicians while still commanding respect from his army of thugs. When those thugs fail, Shand is willing to get violent himself to prove a point. Hoskins, though, is matched by a capable cast, and Helen Mirren stands at the top of that list. She insisted that her role as Shand's "moll" be rewritten to make her more than a stereotype, and it shows. She's attractive and intelligent, and isn't afraid to play in the gangster world. The rest of the cast includes a number of faces that film fans will recognize, including Pierce Brosnan in a cameo, as well as several actors who would go on to star in Guy Ritchie's films decades later.
On Blu-ray, The Long Good Friday looks as good as we can hope for. There is some print damage, colors can be washed out, and black levels aren't spectacular. However, when the AVC encoded transfer gets going, das it does as the film progresses, pleasing details are evident, compression artifacts are absent, and the grain starts to look just right. The DTS-HD does a fantastic job with the heavy London accents, keeping dialogue clear but also balanced with the film's more violent moments. Subtitles are included, but they're sometimes quite a bit different from what's being said by the characters.
On the negative side, there are no extras on this disc whatsoever. Anchor Bay released a pretty loaded special edition DVD a few years before this disc, and it's a shame that Image couldn't license some of that material to flesh out a Blu-ray disc of a film this good. As for the film itself, it doesn't have the slam-bang energy of contemporary British gangsterism like Guy Ritchie, so its pacing might throw some viewers off. There are also quite a few scenes of violence throughout the film which may be rendered a bit brutally for some viewers.
The Long Good Friday is a great gangster film with strong acting and a good story. Although this Blu-ray doesn't have the extras of previous releases, it looks good enough to warrant an upgrade for fans. Those new to the film should probably give this edition a try before tracking down a more extras-laden release.
Despite Harold Shand's crimes (and the film's lack of extras), The Long Good Friday is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated R