Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is the biggest gangster in London and peace between the mobs has lasted because of him. He is on the precipice of a big deal that will make him a very rich man. All he needs to do is secure an investment from American Mafioso Charlie (Eddie Constantine), which will assist in the development required to bring the 1988 Olympics to London. Upon his return to London, slightly ahead of the Americans, Shand is convinced it's already a done deal. However, as Robert Burns oft-quoted poem, "To a Mouse", rightly states: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (Translation: The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry.)
Someone appears to be coming after Shand's operation. Members of his gang are being murdered and bombs meant for Shand are exploding across the city. Not wanting to scare away his investors, he has Victoria (Helen Mirren) entertain them while he attempts to get to the bottom of what's going on. He and his men shake down snitches and round up hoods, but they don’t get any closer to the truth. When Shand learns who his nemesis is and the motivation for coming after him, he tries to correct the situation in his typical fashion.
Director MacKenzie does a masterful job directing, particularly in creating suspense by providing the audience with a little more information than the characters. During one sequence that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, a sniper is revealed, which ratchets up the tension with anticipation of his potential action.
Writer Barrie Keeffe's script is a well-constructed story filled with twists and turns that keep the viewer, and Shand, guessing about what's about to happen next. It makes an excellent time capsule to show what was happening in London at the time without overtly drawing attention to it.
The characters of Shand and Victoria are interesting for the crime genre, particularly Victoria who isn't your typical gun moll. She comes off like an equal in Shand's enterprise, making important decisions and helping him stay on track. They are brought to life by outstanding performances by Hoskins and Mirren, respectively. Hoskins has one outstanding scene that truly showcases his talent as an actor. In a tight close-up, the viewer can see a number of thoughts pass through his head just through the expressions of his face as he contemplates his next move. Attention has been also paid to the minor characters as well, although in the film's one flaw, Colin (Paul Freeman) is a gay stereotype, only seen on the prowl for young men. It's unfortunate his character isn't given more depth.
For those who enjoy thrillers, 'The Long Good Friday' has everything a film could want in terms of story, characters, acting, and directing. It's well worth seeing.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'The Long Good Friday' to high-definition on a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray is reported to be Region A.
The 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer, presented at 1.85:1, is limited by the source, which was shot on a low budget, and no restoration has been done. Light, natural grain can be seen, suggesting no DNR work was performed either. There are occasional white flecks on the print, but they're small and rare enough that when first spotted I initially questioned whether I had seen them at all. In the first scene with Shand and Victoria, the brightness briefly flickers. Being the only instance it occurred, I tend to think it's a source issue.
Colors look natural, with moderate brightness. Reds in particular stand out. Blacks are satisfactory. Although there's not a sharp focus with well-defined edges throughout the film, details are better revealed when on display in the foreground, such as Shand's henchman Razor's facial scar. It looks intentional on single shots of Mirren, a standard technique when shooting actresses. Softness creeps into the backgrounds, limiting some of the textures and the depth of some scenes. Other times, when depth appears important to the shot, like the sequence at the meat-processing plant, cinematographer Phil Meheux's work is better captured.
Although the packaging claims there is a 5.1 track, the disc offers little evidence of such, as I only heard audio from the front channels. And it's not anything done on my end as the Image ID roars through the surround system. Nothing moves between channels, and there's barely any ambiance, even with quite a number of scenes offering opportunities for it. The most distinct element is Francis Monkman's synth score, apparent immediately as the film begins. Some of the stings are too high-pitched, but the music never hampers the dialogue, allowing for a good balance between elements. The explosions go off with a good bit of oomph.
There's only the film's trailer.
As part of their deal with Handmade Films, Image Entertainment presents 'The Long Good Friday,' John Mackenzie's marvelous crime thriller set in late '70s London starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. Video is fairly solid, audio is weak but presented as well as possible given the source. The strengths of the story and the acting help to offset the lack of extras on this release. 'The Long Good Friday' is so satisfying an experience that it still comes recommended.