Dir: John Mackenzie
Star: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Dave King, Derek Thompson
There’s something eerily predictive about gangster Harold Shand’s (Hoskins) motivations for acquiring land in this thriller – it’s to take advantage of London’s East End being the venue for the Olympics, almost 25 years before the games were awarded to the city, for exactly that to take place. To move things forward, he brings in an American partner, but the plans by him and his wife (Mirren) to impress their visitor go awry, as someone starts killing off Shand’s men, and blowing up his properties. Given there has been a decade of peace in London among the various gangs and their territories, Harold is shocked, but once he has regained his composure, sets out to track down those reponsible and restore order to his turf, having been given 24 hours by the Americans to sort things out, or they will walk away from the dea.
Though given the 1988 Olympics mentioned eventually took place in Seoul, that might have been best for everyone concerned. Needless to say, the soft and gentle approach isn’t going to get it done, but is Shand looking too close to home for the cause? Or, worse still, not close enough? Pretty much the archetypal East End gangster flick, which may explain why it sometimes feels like half the cast are familiar from the works of Guy Ritchie, including Alan Bond and a very young Dexter Fletcher (there’s also the first film role for Pierce Brosnan). It pretty much defined Hoskins for the rest of his career, and remains one of the classics of the genre. It’s largely down to Hoskins performance, which could easily have been a one-note tirade, but instead delivers unexpected depths.
Shand years for legitimacy, with an abiding love for the East End and his inhabitants that drives him, perhaps more than any lust for power. Mirren also shows steel, though she was more of a star at the time, and the camerawork is ingenious and effective, particularly when Shand is unloading a truck of his London rivals in an abattoir, and the camera is hanging upside down from a meathook, just as they are. It does have a jarring opening that really makes little or no sense at the time; you need to hang on until it gets through that, and perhaps also go back and re-watch it at the end, when you’ll be more aware of what’s going on. If time has made some of its elements over-familiar now, hard to argue that this is indeed a hugely-influantial classic.