Blu-ray Review: The Long Good Friday (1979)

Quite possibly the best British crime film of all time, The Long Good Friday remains a staggeringly complex, startlingly violent, ingeniously paced, and technically dazzling work that continues to pack an explosive punch more than thirty years after its production ended in 1979.

And long before young filmgoers became introduced to Bob Hoskins as the serious straight man opposite the fast talking Roger Rabbit in the Hollywood smash, he turned in some truly masterful, understated performances as a sort of old-fashioned, authoritative descendant of the men who populated Warner Brothers gangster films in the 1930s and '40s.

Yet while it was his work in Neil Jordan's underworld saga Mona Lisa (which was also recently released on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment) that earned him an Academy Award nomination, he's in a class all his own as ambitious mobster Harold Shand in John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday.

Determined to transform his shady “corporation” from illegitimate to legitimate with his plans to develop the docklands of London in time for the Olympic games, Harold and his longtime love Victoria (Helen Mirren) find their goals for wealth and respect threatened by a growing body count as his loyal crew members wind up dead one-by-one and bombs are discovered in his territory.

Uncertain whether or not he's in the midst of a gang war, needs to root out a traitor among his own ranks or if any of these explosive events have something to do with the arrival of a New Jersey mobster and his lawyer, essentially the only thing Harold knows for certain is that he's running out of time.

Sharply edited and lensed with some artistically daring decisions to change up perspective and make us feel as tense as Harold does throughout, whether that involves filming from upside down to illustrate the point-of-view of men hung on meat hooks from their ankles, the effect of a surprise slap across the face, or the doom of being taken on a one-way drive, it's moodily atmospheric, gritty and daring as hell.

Obviously a major influence on the oeuvre of Guy Ritchie among others, Friday is compelling from the get-go thanks largely to a taut and downright risky screenplay by playwright Barrie Keeffe (his first and only film script) that deals with race, class and sexual orientation in a blunt matter-of-fact manner in addition to Francis Monkman's chillingly pitch-perfect synthesizer based score.

While it's usually a thankless task to play the woman in a male-centric crime drama, Helen Mirren's quiet determination and unwavering loyalty is a marvel as her one-dimensional glamor girl character Victoria soon evolves into an increasingly fascinating and methodical second protagonist who is the absolute equal of Harold.

Boasting a nastily convincing performance by Pierce Brosnan in his feature film debut as a coolly detached hitman, Mackenzie's audacious criminal opus is given a scratch free, polished Blu-ray transfer that is sure to draw you in for the Long Good ride whether you've taken it before or are finally getting tuned in to Friday.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.