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The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie) 1982   

    Bob Hoskins gives a stunning, doggedly tough yet profoundly pained performance in John Mackenzie’s London-based gangster flick The Long Good Friday that sometimes manages to elevate the picture’s generally diffuse drama to Shakespearean levels. Hoskins is perfectly cast, as his physical presence seems to be at odds with the well groomed world he’s maneuvering in here. Helen Mirren, who’s really quite elegant and beautiful here, exudes such class as his trophy wife that the feeling that Hoskins is a trespasser in the straight world is only aggrandized by her presence. He might try to look like a businessman, but it’s all too apparent that he’s a paunch little thug under the business suit. It’s a testament to the actor’s ability that the film manages to work as well as it does, since the tone is often hackneyed and cumbersome. Mackenzie stages the opening minutes without dialogue which, leaves the audience needlessly puzzled about what was shown there for much of the running time. After the dialogue kicks in, a drone of jarringly inappropriate synthesized music chimes in regularly to eliminate much of the atmosphere as it is forming. Nevertheless, outside of Guy Richie, there hasn’t been an overabundance of British gangster films lately, so the locale helps a lot of what we see still feel fresh.   

    Harold, Hoskin’s character, is undoubtedly a high roller in London’s regimented gangster world, but when the shit starts to come down, he feels remarkably wounded. Unlike most films in this genre, he stops to mourn his fallen friends. The script allows him to feel scared, confused, and angry when a gang war appears to be bubbling up from under the surface of the London streets. Much of that gang war is obscured from us, as the film tends to stick with Howard, the leader of his faction, and not with the thugs. Still, when it comes time for him to show it, Howard’s brutality rises up from just under the surface and slashes out at those around him. Howard’s professional exterior is put on here, not incidentally, to impress a group of Americans, and the entire film feels like an examination of British reserve and its breaking point. It doesn’t just seem to be his vocation that gives Howard such a chip on his shoulder, as his nationality definitely feels like a factor. Howard’s wife and he spend the film catering to the Americans, keeping up appearances, and when the events that are pressuring Howard finally push him out of the realm of good manners and understatement, it results, not surprisingly, in a tragedy. The terrific final scene feels less like a return to reserve than a retreat to resignation. The complexity of Howard’s character becomes far more interesting than the plot ever does. We’re always more trapped in the moment with Howard than aware of the machinations that are conspiring against him. Hoskin’s exceptional performance is good enough to make this muck through the genre’s cliches worthwhile, though. 

* * * 


Jeremy Heilman