Gangster No.1

"Good"

Gangster No.1 Review


At the center of the violent, commanding English underworld flick "Gangster No.1" is an innovative and enticing bit of ironic casting. The story of a vicious mafia thug who hasn't changed at all in 30 years except to get more brutal and bitter, it features an unnamed title character played in two brilliantly vile performances by two sublimely in-sync actors.

Meanwhile, all the Gangster's acquaintances and enemies (he has no friends) change immeasurably over the years -- many of them trying to lead better lives -- yet they're all played by the same actors in both the film's 1968 past and 1999 present.

For director Paul McGuigan this is more than a gimmick. It's a metaphorical dichotomy with a resounding effect.

The preternaturally menacing Malcolm McDowell plays the Gangster in the present day, a cigar-chomping tough guy at the top of the criminal food chain whose greatest pleasure in life is that everyone he knows is scared to death of him.

But all his power and sway could get pulled out from under him in the next few days because his old boss -- the man Gangster tried to kill when consolidating power in his hungry and ruthlessly ambitious youth -- is getting out of jail 30 years after our boy framed him for murder.

Yeah, Freddie Mays is back, and despite living in Freddie's pad (decorated just the way Freddie left it) and running Freddie's empire for three decades, the Gangster is about to come face to face with the fact that he's still a pathetic wannabe, seething with 30 years of compounded psychological bile, and despite being the kingpin, he still has no idea who he is.

Flashing back to the late 1960s, McDowell narrates his rise to power over the chilling yet seductive performance of Paul Bettany (the wise-cracking Chaucer in "A Knight's Tale," Russell Crowe's impetuous roommate in "A Beautiful Mind"), who says only about one-fifth of what he's thinking, but does a spectacular job of expressing with his body language the venom in McDowell's voice-over.

From the day he's first hired by Freddie Mays (a surprisingly intimidating but still wiry and assailable David Thewlis), the Gangster has designs on the man's kingdom. "I was drunk on the smell of Italian leather," McDowell's voice hisses as Bettany surveys the mobster's designer high-rise condo like a circling hawk, imagining himself holding court on Freddie's plush couch, built into the sunken part of Freddie's shag-carpeted living room.

There are fierce plots and violent thoughts boiling behind Bettany's eyes in every scene of the movie's '60s and early '70s period. As the Gangster bides his time, he bites his tongue and holds his temper, even when Freddie's go-go dancer girlfriend (the stunning, statuesque and shrewd Saffron Burrows) spits in his face in response to a come-on. She's one more thing he wants to usurp from his boss, but he'd happily kill her just the same.

Director McGuigan demonstrates an impressive command of cinematic language in "Gangster No.1," shooting the 1960s scenes in a 1960s style and creating a vivid world of shark suits and babydoll dresses while photographing the modern era in crisp colors that pop off the screen. No less remarkable is the seamless age makeup used on Thewlis and Burrows, who in 1968 scenes look younger than they really are and in 1999 scenes convincingly play opposite the real, amazingly expressive wrinkles of Malcolm McDowell without raising a single eyebrow of doubt about their maturity.

But more importantly, McGuigan captures the pathological conflict within his title character. In his youth the man is hungry for everything Freddie represents. But when Freddie gets out of jail and has no plans to strike back -- in fact he's planning to marry Karen, the go-go dancer who has stuck by his side throughout his incarceration, and live a quiet life -- all the value Gangster assigned to Freddie's empire evaporates, leaving his ego without a rudder.

A warning to the squeamish: "Gangster No.1" spares the viewer nothing of its anti-hero's violent tendencies. In one scene, as Bettany consolidates his power, the camera takes the point of view of a rival racketeer being tortured to death by the Gangster. Bettany removes his expensive shoes and his expensive suit, folding it carefully, before taking axe, a machete and a hammer out of a leather bag. It's a disturbing, deliberately provocative moment that may cross the line for some moviegoers. But there's no denying it drives the point home since Bettany is literally whistling while he works.



Gangster No.1

Facts and Figures

Run time: 103 mins

In Theaters: Friday 9th June 2000

Distributed by: IFC Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 37 Rotten: 15

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Freddie Mays, as Lenny Taylor, as younger Gangster, as Gangster 55, as Karen, as Tommy, as Eddie Miller, as Maxie King, as Mad John, as Roland, Cavan Clerkin as Billy, as Derek

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

Advertisement
My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.