A Very British Gangster

"Very Good"

A Very British Gangster Review


The opening scenes of Donal MacIntyre's blunt, charged documentary A Very British Gangster have the kind of grandiose strut and prowl you'd expect from a director who was given total access to one of the country's most wanted gang lords; he's not going to waste that opportunity by making the guy look daft. Manchester underworld boss Dominic Noonan is lovingly photographed walking in gangster slo-mo through the town's damp and greasy-looking streets as the hyperactive soundtrack throbs -- rarely has Quentin Tarantino's deadly stubborn hold on the British creative psyche been made more apparent.

Of course, Tarantino would never make a film about someone like Noonan. For one thing, he wouldn't be able to understand the man. Stocky and bullet-headed, with businessman glasses and gangster-flash suit, Noonan talks a blue streak throughout the film in a Mancunian accent so thick you could spread it on toast. He also fails to fit the cinematic definition of a gangster by living quite mildly (despite the millions he's allegedly stolen) in a standard-issue working-class house, not to mention being gay. Noonan doesn't let his late-blooming homosexuality define him as somehow a man apart from the many generations of thuggish criminals his family appears to have spawned, it seems simply a rather small detail of the pulp novel that is his life. He seems too busy lording it over his particular patch of Manchester real estate to waste much time worrying about the difficulties of being gay in a criminal environment.

Having spent 22 of his 39 years in prison, Noonan doesn't seem much motivated to do anything else with his life. He claims to run a security service, complete with police-like uniforms and ex-police vehicles, and has designs on opening a community bank. But his above-ground operations seem to mirror that of the average don. The camera follows Noonan through the city's depressed neighborhoods visiting supplicants, one needing help with a bully, another having a custody fight over her baby, and so on; all preferring his help to that of the police. It all seems quite clearly the standard gloss of good citizenship that crime bosses the world over use to pump up their reputations and get the locals in line behind them so that when the police come sniffing around, there's nobody to say a bad word about him. The fireworks display Noonan puts on for neighborhood kids is as naked an advertisement of his good neighbor status as it is sadly underwhelming.

More indicative of Noonan's real business are the scrum of teenage boys in dark suits and shaven heads who surround him at most times. Hungry-thin, the boys have the feral look of hoods glimpsed in a grainy second of footage right before they smash in a CCTV monitor; their exact role is unclear (Enforcers? Protection?), but the given explanation of friendship is laughably inadequate. The police are convinced of Noonan's continued gangster activity, hauling him in for trial after trial on charges that don't seem to stick. He breezily and chillingly suggests before one trial that the seven witnesses against him who declined to show up must have gotten a cheap deal on a vacation somewhere. It's a statement that pales in comparison to the scene in which Noonan's brother, a reputed assassin and crackhead, makes it quite clear (with staggeringly arrogant laughter) that he has zero remorse for the murders he's committed.

MacIntyre has been accused of glorifying Noonan and his clique, but that charge doesn't do his film justice. The director, who also serves as the somewhat clueless interviewer figure, certainly plays up Noonan's aura but in some ways it would be irresponsible not to, particularly after witnessing the funeral of a member of Noonan's family. A masterpiece of gangster sentimentality, it's all limousines and marching musicians, complete with a horse-drawn hearse and feather-capped horses, Noonan strutting near the head, theatrically weeping at the burial itself while thousands of onlookers stand enraptured by the spectacle of it all. When schools and businesses shut down (out of fear or respect) for a gangster's funeral, it's clear the Noonans are people to be reckoned with, for better or for worse.



A Very British Gangster

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 7th December 2007

Distributed by: Anywhere Road

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Chris Shaw, Lil Cranfield

Also starring:

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