Gangster No. 1 (2000)

The evil that men do

The film, Gangster No. 1, another entry in the British gangster genre–introduces us to a top gangster (played by Malcolm McDowell). He’s wearing an expensive tuxedo, sipping champagne, and smoking one fat cigar after another while we hear Tony Bennett singing “The Good Life” in the background.

The gangster receives the bad news that his old boss, Frankie Mays  (David Thewlis) is about to be released from a long stint in prison. This news causes the gangster to reminisce about the beginnings of his association with Mays back in 1968.

Indeed, most of the film is the story of the gangster’s rather mis-spent youth serving as May’s henchman. The gangster as a young man is played by Paul Bettany–but with some narration by McDowell. The young gangster rises through the ranks of Freddie’s organization by the use of his explosive violence, cunning, and ruthless ambition.

This film is one of the better British gangster films out there. This is due partly to the marvellous character study of the pyschopathic young gangster who turns out to be the deadliest thug in the bunch. The young gangster and his boss, Freddie, have a strange relationship. Freddie underestimates the young gangster and fails to see that he is different–more intelligent–than the rest of the crew. The young gangster has very powerful feelings about Freddie. He idolizes him, envies him, hates him, but all that is stirred in with suppressed homosexuality. The young gangster wants to be Freddie and wants to have all that Freddie has. There is one exception to all of this–and that is Freddie’s girlfriend. The young gangster hates her violently. Indeed, it is the introduction of the love interest that pushes the troubled relationship between Freddie and the young gangster to breaking point.

This film was flawed by one thing–the ending!! After such a brilliant build-up, I somehow expected more. The ending was a disappointment. The film was quite violent. However, dare I say this….it was tastefully done.

Great to see Malcolm McDowell back in a role worthy of his talents. And watch out for Paul Bettany–he was incredible in this film. Directed by Paul McGuigan (he’s Scottish, but I filed the film under British).

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Filed under British, Crime

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