April 14th, 2017

Drunken Fighter Pipboy

Hoskins' Holiday

Normally gangsters only need to worry about cops and other gangs but one ganglord suddenly finds another, formidable thorn in his side in 1979's The Long Good Friday. The film obviously intends to use its story as an allegory for British politics and foreign relations in the late 70s but it's more entertaining now as a straight-forward gangster film dominated by a vigorous performance from Bob Hoskins.

The film begins with two seemingly unrelated sequences of scenes. One sequence in which Paul Freeman in an unspeaking role picks up a guy who gets beaten up by unidentified assailants before Freeman himself is beaten and killed by a guy pretending to flirt with him, and sequence in which gang lord Harold Shand (Hoskins) is getting ready to meet some U.S. mafia guys in the hopes of starting a partnership. The film is set during Good Friday and Harold's mother attends a church service where a bomb destroys her car. Eventually we learn than Freeman's character is named Colin and is Harold's best friend and associate so, along with the attack on his mother, it's starting to look like someone has a vendetta against Harold's operation right at the time such instability would look bad to his prospective American partners.

The fact that Harold knew Colin was gay and apparently had no problem with it seems remarkably progressive for a gangster, particularly in the 70s, which makes me wonder if a homophobic audience was meant to be repulsed by Harold's acceptance of his friend. Director John Mackenzie presents Colin and the first man he flirts with without any apparent condemnation, though, so it just comes off as normal, except one wonders why so much time is spent with Colin when he doesn't even have a speaking part. It might be part of the film's intended political allegory representing toleration in Britain. The police are almost totally absent from the film, even in scenes where one figures the police must have shown up and been something Harold would have to deal with. It seems a deliberate attempt to separate the story from reality and with a speech Harold gives at the end where he talks about the difference between Britain and the U.S. he seems as though he was meant to be a personification of British identity or administration.

Helen Mirren gets second billing but her part is relatively small as Harold's lover and second in command, Victoria. She's very good, of course, her best scene being essentially a miniature thriller film where one of their lieutenants, Jeff (Derek Thompson), seems to be threatening her in a lift.

But the main event in this film is Hoskins. Just watching him getting increasingly pissed off and violent as things go further and further south is great. He's short but his thick arms seem powerful and he moved very quickly, his wide eyes and flaring nostrils and the way he used his bottom teeth, he's like a were-badger on speed but restrained, like a kettle of rage always just on the point of boiling over.