THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY—-When it finally arrived in the States in 1982, after debuting two years earlier in London, it was clear that this superbly crafted sleeper was the best gangster movie since we left Michael Corleone, staring out at Lake Tahoe back in 1974s The Godfather Part II. There have been a slew of fine entries since, but this Brit bruiser reigns secure at the top of the bloody pack in its thug subgenre from across the Atlantic.
Cockney crime czar Bob Hoskins is about to put the finishing touches on his carefully built fiefdom, with representatives from the American Mafia arriving to cinch a deal that will make the whole operation legit. Just when everything seems primed, someone starts blowing up cars and restaurants, carving up friends, making some kind of point from persons unknown, putting Bob’s bollocks on the block. Hackles raised, this bull terrier—a sort of London Jimmy Cagney— goes on a desperate odyssey of revenge and revelation, while his steadfast, quick-thinking mistress—faultlessly acted by Helen Mirren—tries to keep a lid on things for the benefit of the Mafioso and hopefully prevent Hoskins from falling apart while his world is doing just that.
Director John MacKenzie wastes nary a minute of the 114 in the telling, its pacing headlong and sure, its violence high-powered but not gratuitous. All technical credits are ace, including a dynamic music score from Francis Monkman, multi-hued and rippling.
The script, by Barrie Keefe, is excellent, breathing fresh life into a time-worn tale of power struggle, offering tight plotting and vivid incident, rounded characters and some bristling exchanges of dialogue, ripe with Britishisms. All the tough and/or funny lines flow quite naturally out of the story development: they’re not just dropped in for cuteness or effect. The Cockney pitch is hard for many to follow: more comes clear with a few viewings. Seemingly pointless threads weave together so that the viewer is surprised along with the characters.
Leading all is the supercharged Hoskins, who takes what could have been a simple thug role and invests it with dignity and purpose, spiced with shots of rage, fear, craft, ruthlessness and disbelief. It’s a tour de force that provides all the aforementioned pluses with an iron spine.