The Long Good Friday (1980)

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*. The title was just an expedient they fell on when the original working title, The Paddy Factor, was felt to be giving too much of the plot away. I don’t love The Long Good Friday. It has an echo of Chandler, but it builds the expectation that it’s all going to take place over the course of a single day, which doesn’t happen. The actual time scheme seems a bit plastic, and it’s not clear how long after Good Friday the later events are occurring.
*. In the nineteenth century there was a genre of social-problem fiction that came to be known as the “Condition-of-England” novel. I can’t help thinking of this as a Condition-of-England” film. Yes, it’s a gangster movie, but it’s really about where England was at in 1979, and where it was going, what its hopes for the future were.

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*. That future was less of the “special relationship” with the U.S., who were revealed as corrupt, hypocritical, and opportunistic carpetbaggers, and more toward dreams of making it rich off of a rising Europe. Through all these diplomatic and economic manouverings, England would retain its status as a proud beacon of independence and culture. All the Corporation has to do is keep the peace and let capital do its transformative work.
*. This dreams crumples in the face of a blast from the past as the Irish troubles once again rear their head. Poor Harold Shand, just a bit ahead of his time in all his plans. If he’d only waited.
*. Is it a complex plot? I don’t think so. In fact it seems quite straightforward to me. What makes it seem complex is the mysterious opening, and the way these events are never entirely explained. But there’s a difference between something being complicated and something simple that’s just left unclear.

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*. Bob Hoskins is great as Harold, mainly because he’s not your typical (by which I guess I mean U.S.-style) gangster. He’s someone who is honestly trying hard to make it as a legitimate businessman, someone a little bit embarrassed by his past. He’s perhaps not as clever as he should be, but you really feel he’s a decent fellow, the type who doesn’t doesn’t deal in drugs and doesn’t like the wet work of violence one bit. He also has charm, which is something that’s not always recognized as being necessary for a gang leader. And he is an Englishman. He remains an Englishman.

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*. Helen Mirren, on the other hand, is a strong actress who gets more credit than she’s due here, as this is a very minor role. She wanted Victoria to be something more than the usual gangster moll, and she is, but that’s not setting the bar very high. In only a couple of scenes is she given anything much to do.
*. It’s a striking score by Francis Monkman, of the kind that people either love or hate. I loved how it had a horror-movie texture at the beginning, almost like something by Goblin. I thought this fit the mood of mystery, suspense, and seemingly random violence. It also fits the theme of a place in flux, searching for an identity.
*. Indeed, I liked a lot about the start of the movie. The way it begins with a montage of silent sequences, the decoding of which will be much delayed. The way the audience immediately identifies with Harold, who has just come back from being away and so is, like them, out of the loop, in need of being brought up to speed. The creepy music.
*. It’s the end I don’t care for. Really, Harold’s Easter Massacre of the Irish gang is ridiculous. Blowing them all away in a glass box at a crowded sporting event? What sense did that make? And I wasn’t really buying that he’d be so easily captured either.
*. The long take of Harold’s face in the back seat does make up for a lot. It’s one of those great movie moments, with an actor’s face being left alone to do all the work of expressing a mind dramatically shifting through stages of calculation and self-awareness. It’s absolutely mesmerizing.
*. It was also the first part of the film to be shot and it’s always a good thing when you have your end in front of you as something to work toward. I only wish they’d managed to do it all as one unbroken shot instead of making cuts back to the kidnappers in the front (including a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan holding the gun). But I think there might have been problems with film running out in the magazines for the particular camera they were using.
*. A strange little gangster movie, not entirely successful but I still prefer it to other eccentric British examples of the genre like Sexy Beast, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Parts of it are indelible, thanks mainly to Hoskins and that unique quality of artsy ’70s cinematography, which is beautiful without being slick. Then the money finally came and you couldn’t make movies that looked like this any more. The new gangsters were bankers and foreign oligarchs, and the movies were headed to Toontown.

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