Saturday, April 28, 2007


"This is an eruption!"

Well, not really.
THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is crime thriller starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. Hoskins plays Harold Shand, who we are told runs all of the organized crime in London. Harold is about to make the biggest deal of his life, one that will make him even more rich and powerful and even respectable. He wants to buy up and renovate some London waterfront property, and doing this seems to have something to do with establishing ties with the American mafia, representatives of which are visiting as Harold's guests. A couple of slayings and bombings in Harold's organization threaten to blow the whole operation, and Harold has to do some quick maneuvering to ensure that his empire will stay intact and on top while not scaring off the Yanks.

This movie should work like, well, gangbusters. It seems to have it all. A great gang story, a terrific script jammed with all kinds of interesting events and tasty near-blasphemy (the movie isn't set on Good Friday for nothing), great actors giving solid work, great gritty atmosphere, funky off-the-beaten-track London locations and some neat pre-Tarantino graphic violence that must have been deeply shocking when the film was first released in 1980. So why doesn't it work? Why wasn't I as involved as I should have been? The film seems to move along in fits and starts, there's never as much tension as there really should be, even Hoskins and Mirren seem to be rather oddly restrained.

They get their moments of course. Mirren's film work has always been oddly uneven, to me. In THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY she plays Victoria, Hoskins' wife and apparent consigliere. A classy and dignified woman who makes a fascinating foil to Hoskins' rougher diamond in the butch. They're a great couple, wonderful to watch, somehow you just know these two have the best sex ever. They really come together in one remarkable scene where she manages to calm him down from a howling rage attack. She punches and slaps him, finally grabbing his hands and staring him down.

But even this scene doesn't quite seem to work as well as it might. It felt like something was missing, that the actors were holding something back. I couldn't help thinking that another take, where Hoskins and Mirren really went for broke, was in order. It's like a really great rehearsal, a really great idea for a scene that needed more time to get the best out of everybody concerned, and that's pretty much how the whole movie winds up feeling.

This can only be the fault of the director, John McKenzie. It isn't fair to McKenzie to compare him to Coppola or Hawks or Scorsese or the Tarantino of RESERVOIR DOGS, but it isn't fair to me as a viewer to make me wish that one of those filmmakers had been in charge. There just isn't the level of tension and simple sustained interest in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY that you'd find THE GODFATHER or SCARFACE or RESERVOIR DOGS or even in an average episode of THE SOPRANOS or PRIME SUSPECT.

And it is a shame. What could have been a masterpiece isn't.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read so many great reviews of this film before watching it. I wondered why I hadn't seen it when it was released. There is usually a reason I avoid movies when they first come out. I agree with your review. It is not the masterpiece so many say it is. I like Bob Hoskins, but this does not compare to James Cagney in "White Heat." I regard "The Godfather" as one of the best films I've eve seen and this film is not in the same category. When I read a review in Leonard Maltin's movie book saying this is one of the best gangster movies ever made, I thought this is going to be great. It moved really slow, had a confusing plot and that scene near the end of graphic violence involving Hoskins and an associate was jarring and seemed to come out of nowhere. I hope I can get that horrible image out of my mind soon. The reason I avoid Tarantino films is the graphic violence.