Long Good Friday: Special Edition, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe grabs a shooter and reviews the classic Cockney Gangster flick on DVD
All powerful underground crime boss, Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), is about to make the deal of a lifetime with ‘business men’ from the United States. For ten years Harold has kept a peaceful balance in the crime world, and today should be no different, the air of legitimacy should make the deal go smoothly. When the deal is done, there will be billions in revenue to go around.
But Good Friday begins with a bang, as Harold's mother's car is blown up at church and his best friend is stabbed to death at a public pool. With his world crashing down around him, Harold attempts to gather his druthers, and exact his vengeance, and quickly if he's going to keep the American's interested in the deal. But the plot thickens as the nature of the crimes begins to surface. It's going to be a very long Good Friday.
Quite often, when one happens across one of those 'classic' films everyone's hyped to a critical mass, one finds one's self watching a fine film in a pre-jaded mindset. This is the reason I've never seen Titanic. I know that I cannot look at it with fresh eyes no matter how hard I may try. When The Long Good Friday appeared in my mailbox I was apprehensive. Here I was presented with a film considered one of the top twenty finest made in British film history, the granddaddy of the modern UK gangster flick. It couldn't possibly be that good.
Well, I opened my mind as wide as possible, and discovered a real classic. The Long Good Friday is just as good as the critics say, and in some ways even better. Most write-ups on the flick make special mention of the brutality of Bob Hoskins' star making performance, comparing him to all the classic gangsters of the classic Hollywood mould. Wasn't I surprised when I realized Harold Shand was not a barbaric monster, but a heartbreakingly sympathetic man who happen to do some awful things, out of what can only be described as love for his dead friend. Yeah, he wants his deal to go smoothly, but underneath it all, the angry fireplug is really seeking vengeance for the untimely death of his best friend.
The political underpinnings have been mentioned more eloquently by better writers, but I'll give it a go here. The biggest and most obviously controversial aspect is the politically ambiguous inclusion of the IRA during a time where their terrorist/freedom fighting activities were at their most prolific. Who'd have thought that nearly thirty years later the base subject of the film would be even more relevant than it was upon the film's initial release? Then we have the allegorical goals of the main character. Made at the beginning of Margaret Thatcher's reinventing of the UK, the film presents its protagonist as the ultimate Capitalist Patriot, a man who's bought into the promises of Thatcherism. The question is; is the film presenting Harold Shand as a sympathetic victim of the ultimate failure of the ultra-conservative movement, or as a villainised representation of the movement's aggression?
Just as the ads will tell you, The Long Good Friday is the direct kin of such recent cockney hits as Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and Matthew Vaughn’s wonderfully cool Layer Cake, along with about a jillion other, lesser gangster incarnations. The lead villains of both Ritchie’s magnum opi (remember when he made films people liked) make appearances as Hoskins' heavies, but those films are at their base, comedies, and this film is most definitely a drama. Sure, there's plenty of humour to be had, but the drama is what makes the film so gripping.
Like the best of the genre, The Long Good Friday has some cracking cockney dialogue. Alliterations, slang, and an unnaturally large thesaurus of vocabulary are all on display, and shine like some of the brightest ever written. In the end, beyond the setting, the dialogue is really what makes a Brit gangster flick special, as plenty of US, Italian, and French films have more than covered the grit, grime, and violence the genre implies. Though The Long Good Friday isn't the first rough and tumble cockney gangster flick, or even the first popular one (that honour would likely go to Michael Cain’s Get Carter), it does what it does better and more interestingly than the bulk of the output.
The '70s crime film revival, led by classics like The French Connection, Point Blank, and Dirty Harry, really do sort of culminate here, and though this film isn't necessarily as good as those, it does learn its lessons from them, even building on the themes to create more sympathetic and deep characters. The great actors, of course, help matters in this department, though even among such larger than life personalities, Hoskins really does steal the show, his only major competition being Helen Mirren, who may be the best gangster's wife in film history, even topping Diane Keaton's wonderful Godfather performances—though, in all fairness, Keaton had the time to develop her character much deeper than Mirren, over the course of three, three hour films.
I could go on, and though it's by no means a perfect film, The Long Good Friday actually deserves its praise. The plot is thick, and the filmmakers have no qualms about throwing the audience into a situation they don't understand, allowing them to figure out what's going on along with the main character. The camera work is not intrusive, and captures the conflict perfectly without ever becoming too flashy. The acting is fantastic, and fans of modern cinema will be delighted to see younger incarnations of some of their favourite British players. A grand film that begs to be viewed by film fanatics from all walks of life.
Anchor Bay has, again, produced a solid DVD transfer from less than desirable materials. All daylight scenes look great, with vibrant colours, and clearness uncommon in aged film. Film grain is always prevalent, but never intrusive, during these sequences. I've notice that several Anchor Bay releases seem to really push the black levels, to the point that some black bleeds a bit, but I have to admit that I actually like this look, and find that it adds to the film experience rather than detracting.
Night and darker interior scenes suffer from heavier grain and a lack of true black. Several blacks appear more bluish in tint. For the most part this is acceptable, but there are a few occasions when the image becomes muddy. These muddy sequences also produce quite a bit of noticeable ghosting effects and some fancy comet tales. Again, these are all forgivable offences. The big oops is what appears to be two or three frames of missing footage towards the finale, which creates a very obvious jump.
Sometimes Mono tracks can really get the job done, and with the right balance can actually create a very immersive track. Though not explosive, this particular Dolby Digital Mono track is layered thick, without losing quality or becoming muddy. The score, which I'll go on record (and probably get a few e-mails about) is good, but often distracting and inappropriate, sounds spectacular, only distorting a few times. There is a sync problem, which makes it so that lips and words occasionally don't link up. This might have something to do with those occasional missing frames I spoke of in the Video section.
Anchor Bay used to be the company you could count on for superior special editions of cult films, but ever since their stellar Dawn of the Dead: Ultimate Edition release, they seem to be putting less and less effort into special features. The Long Good Friday is a welcome return to form for the studio, who has presented one of the finest single disc editions I've seen in a long while.
The credit for this resurgence in quality goes almost 90% to the newly created documentary Bloody Business: The Making of The Long Good Friday, which is the studio's finest retrospective documentary since, of course, their Dawn of the Dead release. Running about an hour in length, the doc covers just about every aspect of the film's production and release, even managing to score an interview with bit player Pierce Bronsnan, who made his motion picture début as a silent, gum-chewing assassin. The director, producer, and cinematographer all do their part to actually make one appreciate the film more after viewing the doc, without ever stooping to narcissism. The release of the film was a story onto itself, including the re-dubbing of Hoskins by the studio, cries of treachery from patriotic Brits, and a nearly two year time span until its final US release. Fascinating stuff.
The rest of the features are more par for the course type stuff. This includes an intriguing and enthusiastic commentary with director John Mackenzie, which is ultimately rendered kind of moot by the awesome documentary. Mackenzie is a talent I'm not at all familiar with, and I will pursue as much of his back catalogue as I can now that I've been properly introduced to his work. The features are concluded with the US and UK trailers (which give away too much), thick, but somewhat non-inclusive talent bios (only the main actors and director are covered), a small poster gallery, and the sets most intriguing but disappointing feature, a ‘Cockney English Slang Glossary’. The glossary really could've been ten times larger and still not inclusive enough to satisfy the film's American fans, which may still have trouble with some of the dialogue.
The first film I've seen in a long time to live up to the hype, The Long Good Friday is a real modern classic. We've got great acting, wonderful camera work, and a cracking original script that all but defines the genre. All you Guy Ritchie fans out there will definitely want to give it a look, and all hold over fans will want to give up their old Criterion disc in favour of this anamorphic presentation and excellent documentary feature.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 4th April 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Bloody Business: Making The Long Good Friday, Audio Commentary With Director John Mackenzie, U.S. and U.K.Trailer, Cockney Slang Glossary, Poster & Still Gallery, Talent Bios, Also On DVD, DVDROM Screenplay
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Mackenzie
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson
Length: 109 minutes
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