Taut, rich crime drama about the not very good day of London crime boss Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins). When we meet him, Shand is on the cusp of branching out to global semi-legitimacy. He’s even hosting his would-be U.S. partner when his entire organization comes under assault. Key associates are dispatched and an unknown enemy is blowing up his establishments, and just when he thought he was getting out, they pull him back in.
Hoskins is ferocious, at once charming and gregarious and then lethal, but palpably human throughout. You really root for him but sense that his time may have passed, especially as he waxes on about the greatness of the Brits and attempts to connect his own rise to the glory days of his homeland, which doesn’t seem all that glorious as depicted by director John Mackenzie. His London is grimy, gray, and decidedly tired, like Harold’s organization, and is starkly juxtaposed against Shand’s fantasies.
The film is also slyly funny. Shand, for example, scolds his spooked American partners about empire and declares, “we’re in the common market now, I’m going into business with the Germans, yes the bleedin’ Krauts!” And even in the midst of their potential destruction, Shand and his gang share knowing, even juvenile laughs that speak to their intimacy.
Helen Mirren is his devoted wife, desperately trying to keep him grounded, and his entire crew feels more like a disintegrating family than a dangerous group of cutthroats. As it all goes bad, Shand’s hubris, parochialism, and self-satisfaction conspire against him, but the strongest theme is just how hard it is to keep “family” together. One of Shand’s more endearing qualities is his patience with underlings who disappoint him like wayward sons. He’s always in between slugging and hugging them.
The film works as a character study and, for a time, a whodunit (or, “who is doing this?”). Occasionally, it is a bit arty, and weighted down by a strange, synthy 80s score, but for the most part, it is riveting.
On HBO Max.