Gangster No. 1
<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5Rate this
Time Out saysThe structure of this British gangster picture, from a play by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, harks back to classics of the genre, Little Caesar and Scarface. It's the story of a thug who rises through the ranks to become a gang boss through brute will and cunning; like Once Upon a Time in America, it doubles back over the decades to assume a deeper emotional timbre. The anonymous 'Gangster' is played by McDowell in his old age, reflecting on his nefarious '60s heyday, when - played by the newcomer Bettany - he became right-hand man to the 'Butcher of Mayfair', Freddie Mays (Thewlis). Mays exudes charm and class; Gangster's Iago-like enmity is part working class envy, part repressed homosexual attraction - and then he's psychotic, which clinches it. The treatment here is full-on and relentless, taking precise period detail and transforming it into the stuff of Expressionist nightmare. Gangster is a monster worthy of a horror movie - Bettany gives great hard stare ('Look at me,' he commands a stoolie repeatedly, and the man's fear has a stench); when things get tense, he's given to a startling subconscious scream (the soundscape designed by Simon Fisher Turner is also impressive). So, with all due respect, it has to be added there's something repellent and self-serving about this film's beady sadism and calculated moral fixing. Belated attempts to squeeze tragic pathos from this very nasty piece of work ring like tin.