Today, the film community woke up to the news that British actor Bob Hoskins passed away on the 29th. He was 71 years old. Over the course of his career, he appeared in over 100 films and is well-remembered for performances in everything from Brazil to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Spiceworld to Felecia’s Journey to Made in Dagenham. However, perhaps his best performance is to be found in a film that’s still not very well-known here in the States.
In 1980’s The Long Good Friday, Bob Hoskins plays Harold Shand. Harold is a crude, violent, and ruthless London gangster who, at the same time, remains oddly likable. Perhaps his likability is due to the fact that, for all of his sociopathic tendencies, Harold does seem to be genuinely devoted to his girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren). Or perhaps it’s because Harold is a fighter, a man who refuses to surrender and, as a result, has managed to make something of himself in one of the most rigidly class-conscious countries in the world. Say what you will about his methods, gangster Harold is still more honest than your typical businessman.
However, ultimately, the main reason we root for Harold is because he’s played by Bob Hoskins. Hoskins turns Harold into a true force of a nature, playing him as manic, charismatic, and — as the film progresses — more and more desperate. The genius of Hoskins performance isn’t that he suggests that Harold isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. The genius is that Hoskins lets us know that, despite all of his bluster, Harold understands that he’s not as smart as he’s pretending to be.
As the film opens, Harold is the most powerful man in the London underworld and is on the verge of staking his claim on the legitimate world as well. All he has to do is convince an American gangster (played by Eddie Constantine) to agree to partner with him on a real estate deal.
However, two assassins (one of whom is played by a silent and devilishly handsome Pierce Brosnan) are killing his associates. Somebody is blowing up his businesses. Even as Harold desperately tries to impress his American guests, he finds himself under siege by an unknown enemy. At first, Harold assumes that a rival gangster is coming after him but, as the day progresses, it becomes evident that there’s a new threat to Harold’s power.
Without Bob Hoskins’ performance, The Long Good Friday is an entertaining gangster film, one that is distinguished by John MacKenzie’s sure direction, Francis Monkman’s energetic and powerful score, and an absolutely perfect final scene. With Hoskins’ performance, The Long Good Friday is one of the best gangster films ever made.
And, as today, it’s a tribute to a truly talented actor.
Bob Hoskins, R.I.P.