Film Reflection: The Long Good Friday (1980)- A Gangster Melodrama That Immerses Us Into a Crime Ridden Hell

John Mackenzie’s British gangster melodrama entitled The Long Good Friday does indeed gesture to some religious undertones but focuses less on salvation and more on an immersion into hell. Our guide is an unbalanced protagonist named Harold Shand, played by Bob Hoskins in his virtuoso breakthrough performance, as he attempts to keep his world from exploding, literally, from its seams. Before there was Tony Soprano there were indeed gangsters that filled the screen in psychologically riveting performances, but it is clear here that Bob Hoskins embodies a complex character in behavior and manner so well that its difficult to separate the actor and character once the final moments of the film pass by. The character’s complexity can be attributed to the brilliant script written by Barrie Keefe who not only allows for a gripping character study but a story that also accounts subtlety in its presentation of a power struggle over the gang ridden city of London. Unlike the modern crime dramas of Guy Ritchie, where it clearly focuses on the underground aspect of the gang scene, here John Mackenzie has his protagonist attempting to transcend the typical category of gangster by suppressing his obvious animalistic urges and become a sort of cleanly businessman. However, this becomes futile in the long run as Harold must go deeper into the mystery as to why he is being targeted making The Long Good Friday a riveting gangster drama as well as a successful take at being an understated thriller.

When it comes to British English and American English there is certainly a barrier when it comes to dialect. In The Long Good Friday the way the characters talk and accentuate particular words and phrases might be confusing at first considering that the story itself begins with a great amount of mystery. But just like other British crime movies, such as Get Carter or a modern example being Sexy Beast, the unfamiliar dialect is quite easy to follow because of the actions on the screen and the way the characters annunciate and behave. That’s mostly what makes The Long Good Friday so successful because it captures the ambiance of the British crime world so well, especially in Bob Hoskins mannerisms. The story isn’t too complex though how it’s presented certainly keeps you in the dark, making the sequences more intriguing as the audience is introduced to more and more information. Harold Shand is a crime boss in London attempting to hide his violent past by moving forward with the Mafia from America attempting to establish a “new London” one where his new harbor and docking facilities will be of great use. However, once two of Harold’s men are killed brutally along with an attempt on his mother’s life, Harold’s plans for a financial partnership might go undeveloped as he is mystified as to what is going on around him. Shand’s sinful criminal empire that deals in gambling, prostitution, gun running, and everything except for narcotics will catch up with him despite his impulses to survive.

Bob Hoskins is by far one of the most under-rated actors of our modern day. Most know him from Who Framed Roger Rabbit or the unfortunate and horribly forgettable take on the Super Mario Brothers movie, but have never really seen him in a performance such as this. It’s really in his eyes where the intensity and vigor appear while witnessing a man become an animal when he’s forced to take out one of his own men with a broken beer bottle. John Ford used to tell John Wayne to use his eyes when he acts and Bob Hoskins takes this rare ability and embraces it, as well as utilizing his mouth as a beacon of his emotions. In the final scene where Hoskins is faced with the inevitable there is a held shot on his facial expressions as it changes from anger, to frustration, to acceptance in one of the more fascinating pieces of character change that can be witnessed solely by expression alone. Along with him in this melodrama filled with moxie is a beautiful and young Helen Mirren, who accomplishes an almost impossible task of embracing Shand’s gun moll Victoria as her own making her incredibly smart, tough, and above all sensual. The actors aid the atmosphere of being immersed into the British crime world, and ultimately make this gangster film incredibly poetic and allegorical.

The Long Good Friday follows a complex protagonist and could actually be categorized as Shakespearean, where a flawed character ultimately falls because of his weaknesses. This is also reminiscent on a biblical scale having Harold Shand being the fall of man or a sacrifice for the continuation of the gangland where power is always transferred, an unfortunate but foreseeable fate. The gritty imagery that reinforces the chain of chaotic destruction, where cars explode or there are close ups of a nail in a security guards hand, there is something gripping about it. It certainly compliments the dissention into hell that is clearly being referenced in the film’s title as well as the hidden barbarism within the protagonist, Harold Shand. There is one moment where Harold’s men hang many rival gangsters upside down on meat hooks, sort of resembling the British gangster version of a crucifixion scene. The Shakespearean ending, which is surprising and will take you by surprise since they lull you into a false sense of security, makes Harold Shand his own Pontius Pilate inevitably putting him on the path towards his end. While we never truly find out the reasons behind either of the rivaling gangs intentions the point of the film is to put a focus on the increase of gang brutality and the cycle that seems as though it will never be broken.

While 80s film will never be considered the epitome of cinematic accomplishments there are certainly a great deal of films that are looked over and John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday is certainly one of them. In fact, The Long Good Friday resurrected the British crime genre from mediocrity and gave it a palpable artistic clarity. Everything from the diverse and riveting acting to the understated development in the script makes this an intriguing film that must endure the gritty and violent imagery that might alienate some viewers. It is drastically different from other crime films, such as Little Caesar or the original Scarface, but more resembles the films that focused on the criminal’s mental state such as White Heat or The Godfather. Certainly it doesn’t come close to the greatness that is The Godfather, but The Long Good Friday is certainly a memorable, gritty, allegorical gangster melodrama that will keep you entertained with its plot subtleties, dark humor, and grandiose performances, especially from the under-rated and exceptional Bob Hoskins.

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