Long Good Friday [1980]

Intricately plotted and smartly paced, this gangster saga clicks as whodunit, social satire, and explosive thriller. The piece is crowned by Bob Hoskins's career-making turn as a London mobster courting respectability and Helen Mirren's subtly detailed performance as his upper-crust mistress. Cockney wiseguy Harold Shand is a would-be burgher whose domination of the city's underworld stems from his shrewdness as a mediator and his skill at harnessing political and economic clout. As Easter approaches, he's poised to launch an aggressive real estate development scheme along the depressed Thames waterfront when all hell breaks loose: a trusted lieutenant is brutally murdered, Shand's mother is nearly killed in a car bombing, one of his pubs is blown apart, and the visiting American don crucial to the pending deal is quickly growing wary. Barrie Keeffe's original screenplay keeps the viewer a step ahead of Shand, providing us with a telling but teasingly incomplete glimpse of the misstep by his underlings that has set chaos loose. At the same time, Keeffe underlines the bourgeois pretensions of the rough-hewn, barrel-chested Shand, how the elegant Victoria (Mirren) helps serve those ambitions, and the myriad parallels between Shand's minions and the local politicians and police only too willing to join in his scheme. Tart, funny dialogue and alternately playful and pungent Eastertide imagery complete Keeffe's shrewd design--two key scenes, in a meat locker and a warehouse, invoke the Crucifixion itself. Even with lesser performances, the script and John Mackenzie's solid direction would make The Long Good Friday a keeper, but Hoskins's explosive portrait of Shand and his descent toward brutal revenge elevates the film into the very front rank, earning admiring comparisons to The Godfather, Scarface, GoodFellas, and other classics of that genre. On DVD, Criterion's new digital transfer restores more than just the widescreen aspect ratio--the film has never looked better, even if an occasionally muddy sound mix survives to make the thick Cockney accents a challenge to decipher. --Sam Sutherland

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