Long Good Friday, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits his favourite British gangster movie on Blu-ray disc...
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.
I reviewed The Long Good Friday for the first time several years ago on standard definition DVD, and was happy to find it was just as good as the critics had said. Most write-ups on the flick made 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 commits awful acts out of what can only be described as genuine love. Sure, he wants his illegal business deal to go down too, but underneath it all is an angry fireplug is really seeking vengeance for the untimely death of his best friend.
The Long Good Friday, even more than earlier cockney thrillers like Get Carter, is the direct kin of the genre revival flicks that gained so much popularity in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, especially Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Rock and Rolla, and Matthew Vaughn’s wonderfully cool Layer Cake, along with about a jillion other, lesser gangster incarnations. Even Vaughn’s more recent gangster vs. superhero epic, Kick-Ass, features a few bits of clear shot homage, despite aiming more consistently at Americanized gangsters. The lead villains of both Ritchie’s early flicks make appearances as Hoskins' heavies. The '70s crime film revival, led by classics like The French Connection, Point Blank, and Dirty Harry actually sort of culminate here, both in political and practical time restraints (the ‘80s really took over the genre, and made it something entirely different). Though The Long Good Friday isn't necessarily as good as earlier incarnations, it director John Mackenzie takes those films into account, and builds on the themes to create more sympathetic and deep characters. The great actors help in this department. Even among larger than life personalities Hoskins really does steal the show. His only major competition being Helen Mirren, who may be the greatest gangster's wife in film history, save Diane Keaton's wonderful Godfather performances—though, in fairness, Keaton had the time to develop her character much deeper than Mirren, over the course of three, three hour films.
The Long Good Friday deserves its praise, but has its share of problems. The plot occasionally can be thicker than it needs to be, though MacKenzie’s willingness to toss the audience into a situation they don't understand, allowing them to figure out what's going on along with the main character is impressive. The camera work is not intrusive, and captures the conflict perfectly without ever becoming too flashy. The biggest and most obviously controversial aspect is the ambiguous inclusion of the IRA during a time where their terrorist/freedom fighting activities were at their most prolific. Harold’s goals also mirror the political trials of the era. 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 villainized representation of the movement's aggression?
Overall this new Image Blu-ray release is relatively comparable to the Anchor Bay, anamorphic release, but is a decent step up in the most important high definition upgrade areas. The print is still pretty grainy, but the grain is finer here, and doesn’t increase as intensely during the darker shots (specifically those taken outside at night). Contrast is increased, leading to deeper blacks and cleaner light hues, all supported by sharper edges, and generally less bleeding (the blacks are also genuinely black, rather than deep blue). The Anchor Bay release was already quite vibrant, but the hues here threaten to burst off the screen at any minute, especially the fire engine reds of some of the vehicles and costumes. Skin tones are a little too red, and the persistent coolness of the lighting overwhelms the lightest whites a bit, but it’s a fair handoff for the poppier elements. Details are never particularly sharp, sometimes the wider shots are downright soft, but there aren’t any compression artefacts or blocking effects in busier frames either. Like the Image Mona Lisa Blu-ray there are issues with frame shake, subtle brightness changes, and there are pieces of noticeable print damage throughout the entire print, but the only times dirt become a bit repressive are relatively uncontrolled outdoor environments, like the airport. There are some noticeable artefacts here that are not visible on the Anchor Bay print (check out Hoskins’ speech around the 21 minute mark if you own both releases), which makes me assume both discs were working from different sources.
Image’s new Blu-ray release comes fitted with a full and effective 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix (the first time in the US/R1). Though I’d say the video differences between this and the Anchor Bay DVD are negligible, this audio upgrade from Dolby Digital Mono is mostly successful, and only involves the stereo and surround tracks on musical occasions. The bulk of the film is still centered and simple, but generally crisper than the earlier release, and the LFE support adds a nice bottom to the vocal and basic sound effects. There’s a slight echo to some of the vocal performances, but the effect doesn’t stem from the track itself not being properly centered. The sound effects can be expectedly tinny, and are very rarely represented in the outer channels, which are pretty much devoted to Francis Monkman’s electro/symphonic score (even the demolition derby is a centric affair). The score is still pretty jarring, but the track respects this stylistic choice, and really belts it out of the three front channels, without any noticeable high end distortion.
Most important to some of you, I can 80% or so verify that this is the original British dialogue track, not the slightly re-dubbed American version. Thanks to now banned reader Dave Brock for the heads-up on the differences back when I posted my DVD review.
Unfortunately Image appears to have not been able (or taken the effort to) get their hands on the excellent Anchor Bay extras, and in place of a director’s commentary and making-of featurette we’re only offered the American release trailer.
The Long Good Friday continues being a classic, and continues begging you to watch it again, or for the first time. Guy Ritchie fans, if there are any of those left, will enjoy the actor spotting game, and will likely enjoy Lock Stock and Snatch on a new level – as spoofs of this film, and those that came before it. Unfortunately, like Image’s same day Mona Lisa release, this Blu-ray isn’t a huge upgrade on previous anamorphic DVD releases, and is only a single layer Blu-ray disc. The sound is better than any version I’ve heard, but the Anchor Bay release’s solid extras are missing entirely. The price is right for those without any release, so complaints are difficult to maintain.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th August 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Mackenzie
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Bryan Marshall, Derek Thompson
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 109 minutes