Christians know well that Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. London crime boss Harold Shand, the antihero of The Long Good Friday, may face a metaphorical crucifixion during Holy Week, but there's little Christ-like about him (for that matter, you wouldn't want to hear his confession). As scripted by Barrie Keeffe, The Long Good Friday does, in fact, incorporate a literal crucifixion as well as a car bombing outside a London church. Security is under siege, chaos is spreading, faith is in short supply, and there's no resurrection in sight.
Director John Mackenzie (The Fourth Protocol) gives this newfangled gangster film a stylish treatment that plays to its greatest strength: Bob Hoskins. As Shand, Hoskins is a marvel, conveying every contradiction of this ambitious, smart but emotional gangster; he's held together by the classiest moll you've ever seen, Helen Mirren's Victoria. They're a more effective pair than Macbeth and his Lady: Harold runs hot, and Victoria runs cool. Possessed of perfect instincts, even under pressure, Victoria cleans up after Harold as he plays the pit bull seeking out unknown enemies. The best laid plans of Harold and Victoria—to secure the American Mafia's participation in a semi-legitimate real-estate investment—go pear-shaped when a series of bombings and slayings (one carried out by a young Pierce Brosnan) play out on the day of Harold's presentation: Good Friday. Harold explains, "I'm not a politician. I'm a businessman with a sense of history." Unfortunately, something went wrong during Harold's recent American visit, and unless he can figure out what within a matter of hours, the deal will fall apart, or worse.
The screw-turning plot is great fodder for Hoskins and Mirren, who expertly calibrate their stressed-out character arcs (the former establishing himself as an unlikely leading man on the strength of this picture). There's some mild satire about the thin line between businessman and gangster, as Shand pushes around the politicans and police on his payroll, and it can be darkly amusing to watch him tour his empire and take care of business. To the world, he can afford no less than an image of ruthless efficiency (a roundup of competitors in a meat locker provides a memorable set piece), but below deck on the yacht that serves as his headquarters, Harold is close to cracking up, lowering his head to Victoria's bosom in a gesture that's disconcertingly close to fetal. The film builds to Hoskins delivering a defiant double whammy in a monologue and a film-ending closeup that allows the actor wordlessly to speak volumes (and puts George Clooney's Michael Clayton cab ride into perspective). The gangster film has seldom been more riveting.
Image's four-picture wave of Handmade Films titles on Blu-ray includes The Long Good Friday, getting its new-format debut. The hi-def transfer represents a definite upgrade from the previous standard-def DVD releases, but one shouldn't expect anything close to the sharpness of a new release. A lack of digital tinkering speaks in the transfer's favor: the image retains its film-like look, with the softness that the source material entails. Image deserves credit for framing the film correctly (the recent UK Blu-ray took hits for substantitally cropping the image) and garnering improvement in color and detail from the underwhelming DVDs; violent telecine wobble during the credits calms down quickly. Sound comes in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that spreads the original stereo across the channels with no finesse; still, I had no trouble understanding dialogue and the effects are, well, effective for a film of this vintage.
Where the Anchor Bay release offered substantial bonus features (including a director's commentary and an hour-long doc with Hoskins and Mirren), the Image Blu-ray offers only the film's "Trailer" (2:42, SD). Considering the framing issue of the Anchor Bay release, many owners of that DVD will want to upgrade for this correctly presented, properly hued, more detailed hi-def transfer (owners of the Criterion DVD may not feel as compelled, as the framing is correct in that edition, featuring only trailers as bonuses). Those who have never picked up The Long Good Friday will definitely want to make the nicely priced Image disc their first stop.
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