Prosperous, gregarious London thug Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is having a very, very bad day – on the cusp of a monumental real estate deal with American mobsters to help revitalize the local Docklands, Shand's complex world slowly, bloodily unravels, pulled apart by seemingly inexplicable acts of violence that threaten the very fabric of his existence. The Long Good Friday is a tightly wound, grimly realized piece of filmmaking, a work that serves as the fountainhead from which the next quarter century of British crime films flow – the directorial likes of Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, Mike Hodges, et al. all draw inspiration from this crackling thriller.
As directed by John Mackenzie, The Long Good Friday boasts two other considerable attributes: Barrie Keeffe's spare, nihilistic script that gives nothing away and Hoskins' electrifying, keenly observed performance as Shand, a character of reprehensible means who nevertheless manages to elicit an audience's sympathy by the film's conclusion. Watching Shand come apart moment by moment drives forward the narrative of The Long Good Friday, upping the stakes with each new twist. While Hoskins is undeniably the story's focus, Mackenzie's secondary cast is likewise exemplary: Helen Mirren's turn as mob moll Victoria is tenacious and spirited, while Eddie Constantine exudes menace as potential Shand partner Charlie, Paul Freeman registers briefly as the ill-fated Colin and Pierce Brosnan (in his first film role) appears as a seductive Irish assassin.
A model of narrative efficiency and fatalistic tone, The Long Good Friday remains a visceral classic of its genre; Bob Hoskins' live-wire turn as cornered gangster Harold Shand remains one of the actor's finest performances, while the supporting cast and gritty, authentic sets help solidify John Mackenzie's film as a must-see for crime film aficionados and Anglophiles alike.
The Long Good Friday finally receives long overdue anamorphic treatment, arriving in its second R1 incarnation with a very clean, crisp 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, remedying the non-anamorphic Criterion R1 disc that's been on the market for years – the relative sharpness and lack of dirt in Anchor Bay's presentation belies the film's age. This is a very sharp transfer.
While some might wish for a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, I'm glad Anchor Bay kept the Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack – Francis Monkman's jazzy, insistent and memorable score is reproduced well and the thick Cockney dialogue doesn't distort or drop out. Some of the action sequences sound a little thin, but that's more due to the film's age than any shortcoming of the DVD. No English subtitles are provided, which is a shame, as some viewers may not be able to keep up with the sometimes heavily accented dialogue.
Another drawback to the Criterion edition of The Long Good Friday was the lack of bonus material – an oversight likewise corrected here. Director Mackenzie contributes a genial, informative commentary track that delves into nuts-and-bolts filmmaking details, as well as his thoughts on the story and acting. Of particular note is the superb 54-minute documentary "Bloody Business: Making The Long Good Friday," presented in anamorphic widescreen and featuring newly filmed interviews with Mirren, Mackenzie, Brosnan, Hoskins, producer Barry Hanson and cinematographer Phil Meheux. Also on board is the US and UK trailers for The Long Good Friday; a "Cockney Slang Glossary"; posters and a still gallery; talent bios for Mackenzie, Hoskins, Mirren and Constantine, with trailers for Time Bandits and Water rounding out the disc. Also, the film's screenplay is available as a DVD-ROM supplement and a six-page booklet featuring an essay by Richard Harland Smith is included.
Visceral, gritty and unforgettable, The Long Good Friday is a true classic of its genre, featuring a ferocious performance from Bob Hoskins. Long overdue for a truly packed special edition DVD, Anchor Bay offers up solid supplements and a great transfer of this British gangland masterpiece. Highly recommended.