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The Long Good Friday

United Kingdom 1980
Directed by
John Mackenzie
109 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Long Good Friday

If you look online you’ll find no end of rapturous reviews for John Mackenzie’s London-set gangster movie. Frankly this mystifies me. For a start since Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998) Guy Richie has owned the sub-genre and even he has struggled to match it. Plot-wise,The Long Good Friday is in the same territory but it doesn’t come close to LS&TSB's style and invention. This doesn’t necessarily doom Mackenzie’s film but whilst it has some merit in its historical context, in itself it is an largely unremarkable film almost televisual in execution (Mackenzie’s previous directorial work had all been for the small screen).    

Bob Hoskins plays Harry Shand, a Cockney tough who has risen up the ranks of the London gangster world and is now trying to put together a deal with the American Mafia to redevelop London’s abandoned Docklands. Their negotiator, Charlie (Eddie Constantine, who will be forever remembered for his role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, 1965) has arrived to seal the deal but as Harry wines and dines Charlie his organization comes under attack on multiple fronts, destabilizing his plans. 

The film, scripted by Barrie Keeffe, does deserve some attention as registering the connection between the IRA and organized crime and as a harbinger of the transformation of London that began in the “greed is good” decade of the 1980s when globalized capital began blurring  the lines between legal and illegal money. However as a gangster film The Long Good Friday doesn’t come to close much ballsier precedents as Mike Hodges Get Carter (1971) and English director, John Boormsan’s Point Blank (1967)

In the role that made him a star Hoskins growls and pops his eye-balls but no-one is particularly intimidated and his caricatural “orright my son?” Cockney accent puts him more in company with Alf Garnett and Harold Steptoe than Michael Caine and Lee Marvin. At the other end of the spectrum Helen Mirren is too opinionated and too inherently middle-class to convince as Harry’s moll, even if he does get to land one on her. The rest of the cast are a largely undifferentiated group of henchmen (one of them is played by Alan Ford who would be so scary as a gang boss in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, 2000) and another is a very pretty Pierce Brosnan making his unlikely film debut.

There are a couple of scenes that impress, one which is set in an abattoir and recalls (no relation) Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut (1973) and the other which holds Harry in extreme close-up as the film's evocative final shot. But offsetting this Frank Monkman’s synthesizer is over-exposed. 

FYI: Hoskins would find himself more suited to playing the small-time gangster of Mona Lisa (1986).




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