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A middle-aged crime boss smugly reflects back from 1999, narrating the brutality which made him triumphant - and feared. As an unnamed young hood in Swinging 60's London, he aped his mod boss Freddie Mays, and seemed to do anything for him. But his narration exposes all-consuming envy: of Freddie's supremacy, and especially his tall bird. The baby shark develops his viciousness and backstabbing, scheming to be Gangster No. 1. Written by
Freddie Mays is shown living in a groovy flat in the Lauderdale Tower of The Barbican in London in the late 60s; however the building was not completed until 1974. See more »
[song "The Good Life" begins as scene opens at boxing match; crowd noises]
What? With Scotland Yard breathing down me neck? Fuck off. Do me a favor!
See more »
Written by Norman Sleek
Published by Blackhill Music Ltd
Used by kind permission of Warner/Chappell Music Ltd
Performed by Albertos y Los Trios Paranoias
Courtesy of Demon Records Ltd
Licensed by kind permission from Bruce Mitchell Productions See more »
The first thing I notice is the cover-jacket. It is littered with the critic's gushing praise ; ` Diamond-edged performances' spews one filmic muso.
Hmmm...I'm immediately suspicious. Films The Truman Show and Existenz also garnered such critical acclaim yet, suspiciously and unfortunately, seemed to do absolutely nothing for me.
So how does Gangster No.1 fare?
Well, ladies and gents, believe the hype. If Gangster No 1 was a man, it would be diamond geezer.
Gangster No1 is a gem, albeit a very dark one. A brutal black comedy and an ultra-hip crime-flick in one - it's a cockney masterpiece, a genuine Pearly King of a movie.
The year is 1968 and our eponymous hero (we only ever know him as `Gangster') is taken under the wing of Freddie Mays, the quintessential East End gangleader. Though Freddie is young he has already earned himself a chilling moniker, the 'Butcher of Mayfair', and a great wad of cash. Gangster begins working for Freddie, collects debts here, breaks a few legs there, but soon has his eyes on the bigger prize - to be Gangster No.1. To be like Freddie. Soon Gangster is plotting his ascent, murdering fellow gang members and precipitating an internecine gang war on his way up the ladder.
So far, so unoriginal, I hear you say. But what distinguishes Gangster No.1 from its rather lame contemporaries (think Circus and 24 Hours in London) is its razor-sharp dialogue and superb performances. The scene where our gangster confronts a gang member suspected of being in cohoots with a rival is simply electrifying.
Paul Bettany manages to be menacing, piteous and ultra-cool all at once with a frighteningly realistic turn in the title role. David Thewlis too, as Freddie Mays, is faultless. Malcolm McDowell provides a suitably cockney-fied voice over, but later reappearing in person as an older version of our Gangster to provide the motivation behind the insightful denounement.
One slight criticism. The old `end of act-two problem' rears its ugly head at around an hour and fifteen minutes. Yes, the film becomes bogged down rather as Malcolm McDowell goes on a panicky cockney walkabout waiting for Freddie Mays to be released from prison. And when the two finally meet, in what was once Freddie May's luxury 60's pad, the scene isn't quite as explosive as you'd hoped it might be.
Nevertheless, Gangster No1 is an excellent film. A credible gangster flick, a stylish revisiting of the 60's East End, a cracking script, and spot-on dialogue.
Oh and the critics were right, the performances are ` diamond -edged'. Funny that.
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