The Long Good Friday, 1979, directed by John Mackenzie, written by Barrie Keeffe.
This movie is fucking great. Or to put it another way, s'fucking great, innit. Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London crime boss on the make. Harold has money, friends in high places, money, a high-class girlfriend, and money. He's basically a yob, and so are his friends, but when the movie opens he's about to go legit. With some American mob money, he's going to buy up the decaying Thames waterfront and develop it into the heart of a new London, just in time for them to host the 1988 Olympics (we all know how that turned out). The American mobster comes to London to scope out his investment and, over the course of an Easter weekend, Harold's empire falls apart.
Or, more accurately, is blown apart. His Rolls Royce explodes outside a church, his closest friend is stabbed to death, the pub where he's set up an elaborate dinner for the Americans is bombed; it's not a relaxing weekend. To make things worse, Harold doesn't have any idea who's doing this to him, or why. So he has to play the gracious, responsible, in control host to the American while simultaneously throwing everything he's got against whoever's trying to kill him.
This is Bob Hoskins's movie all the way. He plays Harold as a writhing mess of ambition and desire; it's a really incredible performance. Most of the acting is good, with one exception: the American mobster is played by Eddie Constantine, from Alphaville, and he's no fun to watch. I appreciate stunt casting him, and his ruined face is perfect for the character. But his version of an American accent is painful to listen to. Just one example: he pronounces Vietnam with two syllables.
Everyone else is either good or great, though, and the script is so good that one off note wouldn't matter. I don't think this is as good a gangster movie as Sexy Beast (which for me is the gold standard), but it gives it a run for its money. And it has one scene that's iconic; Harold addressing a group of mobsters who he thinks may know who's out to kill him. What makes him a great leader is his ability to put other people at ease, to let them make themselves at home even in an awkward situation. Like so:
Guy Ritchie, eat your heart out.
- The movie's full of great lines but here's a favorite: Harold giving his girlfriend (Victoria!) advice on how to impress the American:
The Yanks love snobbery. They
really feel they've arrived in
England if the upper classes
treat them like shit.
It gives them a sense of history.
- Eddie Constantinte was stunt-cast as a reference to film history. Unfortunately, the filmmakers unwittingly referenced the future of film as well. There's a scene where one of Harold's men picks up a younger guy at a swimming pool. They make eyes at each other; Harold's guy follows him into the dressing room, where he's taking a shower. They're about to start making out, when the younger man stabs him to death. A good scene, nice turnaround, and neither character is that essential to the plot of the story; should play fine. But here's the older mobster:
- And here's the young killer:
- That's right: in this movie James Bond nearly makes out in the shower with Belloq, then stabs him to death. I felt like I'd wandered into some sort of terrible fan fiction. The worst thing is, there's nothing a filmmaker can do to prevent this; when you cast a minor role, you just have to hope for the best.
- At the end of the movie, there's a long, wordless shot of Bob Hoskins. I won't say too much about it except that Hoskins lets you see everything that's going on in his head; it's one of those moments that reminded me how exciting great acting can be. It reminded me most of all of the last shot of Idi Amin Dada, which I'll be watching again at some point during this project.
- If they ever rerelease this, I have an idea for a marketing campaign. Take us home, Pierce:
Pierce Brosnan IS "First Irishman!"