Paul Bettany, Malcolm McDowell, David Thewlis, and Saffron Burrows
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Written by: Johnny Ferguson
Speaking? Gangster#1 is yet another look at the decidedly
savage underworld of merry old England. But that is where the
similarities end and the brilliance begins. Gangster # 1
makes recent underworld imports like Snatch
and Mean Machine look like Mary
Stellar performances by both Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell
along with superb direction make this mandatory viewing if
you loved the legendary no apologies bit-on-the-nasty-side-ultra-violence.
meet an elegant, yet oddly immediately disturbing, gentleman sitting
ringside at a swanky boxing match. He's living the good life;
smoking a cigar, wearing expensive clothes and wearing hand made
shoes. He's with a similar group of older tough talking well dressed
chaps you just know aren't into proper banking positions.
As the discussion turns to a bloke named Freddie Mays who is "getting
out" after thirty odd years of incarceration the elegant
man begins to morph and one can literally feel the wave of animal
hate brewing as his face goes white.
he stumbles to the bathroom, one imagines to get some air he,
Gangster (Malcolm McDowell), turns to the camera and starts to
tell us his life's tale.
It's 1968 he's young again (Paul Bettany) and full of anger ready
to rob steal and kill his way to the top. His gangster hero Freddie
Mays (David Thewlis) aka The Butcher of Mayfair has heard of him
and decides he'd be just the type of bloke his burgeoning crime
crew would need.
is thrilled to be working for his idol and thinks of Freddie as
a crime mentor. Gangster thoroughly enjoys his duties for Freddie
which include but are not limited to sodding up people who borrow
and don't pay back, a bit of general maiming, a smidge of killing
and a whole look of intimidation for good measure. Keeping the
locals in check if you will. Gangster has developed a nitch of
his own that involves an ax and carving kit designed, not for
human flesh, but wood.
Mays who's both hero and Godfather to the young buck Gangster
is arrested for a Mobland murder and is sent up to the big house
for twenty-five to thirty years. Gangster,
who is a tad ambitious takes over immediately. Of course it's
as a favor....he's just manning the helm while Freddie's away.
mundane and riddled with the usual suspects, I know, but have
faith. Just look at the cast. This is not simply a hack gangster
film. Gangster #1 is an original styled and overtly blunt
look at the non-redeemable sorts that walk among us. The camera
work is fantastic. Director Paul McGuigan even utilizes multi-split
screen shots effectively. The cinematography, by Peter
Sova, captures your senses unaware as he impeccably sets the tone
of each scene.
Bettany as Younger Gangster is devilishly evil. And Paulie's
innocent choir boy fix-you-a-spot-of-tea-and-fluff-a-pillow-dear?
good looks will soon dissipate as you bite into his psychotic
portrayal of this unnerving horrible being. If you thought seeing
Gandhi, er, Ben Kingsley switch stereotypes and sleaze it up in
Sexy Beast was a treat wait till you see this brilliant
performance by Bettany. Which in a word is flawless. Paul's a
bit of man yum anyway. He's a multileveled Sheppard's Pie of a
lad. Each tasty layer makes way to reveal another deeper richer
layer below even more delicious than the last. A fine blooming
since A Clockwork Orange has Malcolm McDowell been sovile
or so unrelenting in delivery of his character. As Gangster the
Older he is without a heart; a malevolent sod beyond redemption
and past perdition. McDowell deliciously oozes blackness and those
large twinkling eyes shift subtly in a nano-second between kind
and sane to cruel and insane. It is another perfect performance
by a great, great actor.
Thewlis, who plays overlord expelled Freddie Mays, looks as if
he shares The Who's Pete Townshend's DNA. Davie plays Freddie
as a believable charming ladies man gangster with a subtle yet
forceful slice of sinister.
Burrows, who plays Karen, Freddie's love interest and Gangster's
pseudo -nemesis, is a remarkable actress as well as being stunningly
If you're into British gangster films that don't tip-toe through
the gruesome parts or pretty up the dialog you may have to see
this a couple of times, it is just that good. Gangster #1
is a tad violent (read - very) so don't take the kids or the weaker
stomached. The rest of you tough tikes enjoy!
recommendation: Sweet tea and crumpets for us normal folks
and lithium and shock treatment for Gangster.