'The Long Good Friday': The late Bob Hoskins' best performance

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The Long Good Friday is not the most successful film to star Bob Hoskins, who has died at the age of 71. (That would be the 1988 blockbuster Who Framed Roger Rabbit.) It may not even be the British actor’s best gangster movie; a case can be made for Neil Jordan’s superlative Mona Lisa. But as a reminder of Hoskins’ volcanic, yet subtly-applied talents, it is impossible to beat this 1979 thriller from director John Mackenzie.

Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a gangster whose (hugely prescient) plan to become a legitimate businessman — by developing the docklands area of East London — is repeatedly, and violently, torpedoed by forces unknown. The actor imbues his character with a bubbling sense of menace, especially when Shand confronts an array of captured — and hanging-upside-down — gangsters in a meat locker to glean information (“Right lads, it’s your decision. Frostbite or verbals. One of the two, right?”).

But as he jack-knifes from presenting a respectable front to his American business partners to desperately trying to figure out who is attempting to take down his underworld empire, Hoskins’ Shand is much more shaded creation than your average big screen mob-maniac. It is a characterization which exudes fierce brutality and fierce intelligence — Hoskins lets us know Shand is a man caught in a bear trap and keen to escape through guile, but also willing to chew off his own leg if that’s what it takes. Along the way, the actor also convinces us that Shand would actually be capable of wooing Helen Mirren’s upper-crust moll Victoria — which, given this is late ’70s Helen Mirren we’re talking about, is no small achievement

You can see Hoskins’ Shand in his full, foul-mouthed pomp in the film’s penultimate scene below, along with the movie’s final sequence — itself a masterclass in acting without verbals. And, yes, that is a very young Pierce Brosnan.

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