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
The two actors who play the "gangster" at the two points in his life are 7 inches different in height. When paired with the older versions of the same character later in life, there are few if any scenes when Malcolm McDowell (the shorter actor) is standing beside them. Surprisingly, they did not attempt the old Hollywood box or trench technique. 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!
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Gangster No. 1 follows the rise and fall of a particularly brutal and disturbed Cockney English gangster.
It would be improper to compare this gem to the likes of Goodfellas (1990), big budget American gangster films and Guy Ritchie Brit slick criminal films. No.1 is in the vein of The Krays (1990) and has a for the most part a traditional narrative. That said, Director Paul McGuigan has a grand visual flare and Johnny Ferguson's screenplay takes the time to actually delve into the psyche of gangster who is arguably more psychopath that sociopath, (either way he is a killer). Ferguson's script gives the dialogue weight and realism which can be very thought provoking at times.
McGuigan superbly crafts the period pieces of 60's London right through to the 90's, with fantastic set design, locations, music soundtrack and score. The viewer gets to witness England in all its swingin' 60's glory. The direction and Andrew Hulme's editing isn't mediocre and great effort has been made to make you feel the emotion that happens on screen, especially when there is a killer and victim scene. The use of P.O.V, manipulated shots and stylised lighting are used to achieve this. There are some gruesome and violent scenes, which is to be expected given the genre. This includes a torture scene that will stay with you for a while after the credits roll. Since its production 11 years ago only the ageing make-up has dated and yet this still doesn't impair on the magic of the film.
The talented cast is any array of familiar UK faces including Saffron Burrows, Eddie Marsan, Doug Allen and Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln to name a few. David Thewlis is on top form as the quintessential gentleman gangster head Freddie Mays and show stealer Jamie Foreman is outstanding as rival gang leader Lennie Taylor in a smaller but pivotal role.
Paul Bettany's performance is simply mesmerising, edgy, scary and he perfectly plays the jealous and ambitious Young Gangster. Incidentally, Bettany is reminiscent of Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange (1971). Similarly, McDowell gives a fitting first-rate performance as the Gangster aged 55, who is just as intimidating and menacing. It's a great piece of casting thats credit goes to Jina Jay.
Overall, it's a satisfying British gangster film that approaches the subject matter from a different angle, and that is from the inside out.
The subject matter aside it's a self-effacing cinematic experience.
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