It really is to no surprise that over the years many filmlovers have had the nerve to call John MacKenzie’s The Long Good Friday “the British Godfather.” As much as such similes often miss the point, mislead future viewers and stand as an offense to the uniqueness of movies, with MacKenzie’s 1979 thriller it seems obvious that we’re dealing with an amazing gangster film fully capable of standing in the same paragraph with the best works of Coppola and Scorsese. The break-out film of the great Bob Hoskins’ career is a compellingly energetic story of a London-based gangster controlling the criminal underground and setting his plan in motion for the transformation of the London dockyards into a venue capable of hosting the 1988 Olympics. Things suddenly and unexpectedly turn for the worse when a series of bombings shakes the protagonist’s criminal empire and, faced with a faceless enemy of unknown origin, our determined but growingly panicky antihero is forced to act viciously and swiftly as he watches his kingdom crumbling down bit by bit.
Possessing a violent sense of humor, exhibiting passionate, career defining performances from both Hoskins and his gun moll, the beautiful Helen Mirren, offering a stunningly deep and compassionate portrait of the main character, The Long Good Friday is an engaging, entertaining and utterly absorbing piece of filmmaking that has every right to be considered a highlight of British moviemaking of this type. Its feverish momentum holds you firmly in its grip, its powerful music makes the story sink in more efficiently, its acting completely wins you over and creates the impression you’re given nothing less than precious insight into real people and their very real problems. Hoskins’ character is a deeply complex one—you see him act savagely, brutally and without a trace of remorse, but then again, a few moments later an image of his joking around with the neighborhood kids or an intimate scene with his mistress turn the tables around and he suddenly seems like an approachable guy easy to understand and relate to, or even show sympathy for. It’s not only Hoskins to thank for this: former journalist Barrie Keefe’s script is constructed so competently it doesn’t strike us as pretentious to compare it to the best works within the genre. The British Godfather, you say? When a film has a combination of talent this impressive, and a firm legacy to testify to its greatness three decades upon release—why not?