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'Long Good Friday' director John Mackenzie 1928-2011

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Helen Mirren, Bob Hoskins

Th British director John Mackenzie, who died last week at the age of 83, had only one indisputable international success. But it was a doozie. "The Long Good Friday" (1979) boosted the film careers of Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren and is still the best British crime movie of the past 31 years. It's no longer available from the Criterion Collection, but Image recently reissued it on DVD and Blu-Ray. Get it now, before it goes out of print again -- it's the kind of entertainment that can make you sweat during an ice storm or shiver in a heat wave.

McKenzie was 52 and already had a quarter-century career in movies when he made this film. His confidence is breathtaking: "The Long Good Friday" moves like a whirlwind. And if casting is 90 per cent of a director's job, Mackenzie rose to genius on this movie. Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London crime boss who controls an empire built on every vice except narcotics. Mirren plays his gun moll, a vision of class, aptly named Victoria; you can't tell whether she's joking or for real when she says she played lacrosse with Princess Anne.

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On the very Good Friday that Shand meets with an American Mafia chief to seal a financial partnership, somebody kills two of his right-hand men, attempts to murder his mother, and blows a favorite pub to smithereens.

Hoskins and Mirren go all the way with these make-or-break parts. Mirren creates a gal who's smart, sensual, and tough, able to control most of her big shot's detonations and even, in a wrestling feint, calm him to a standstill. (Mirren was great fun in the action comedy "Red," but here she really packs an emotional punch.) And Hoskins does more with his cheeks and jowls than Richard Nixon ever did. The felt life Hoskins packs into Shand's bowling-pin body and pinsetter's voice enables director Mackenzie to put a vicious spin on the "Little Caesar" kind of gangster film -- with British accents, and on an epic scale.

For the short essay I wrote for the Criterion Collection, click here.

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