Gangster No. 1

Film, Thrillers

Time Out says

The 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.


Release details

103 mins

Cast and crew

Paul McGuigan
Johnny Ferguson
Malcom McDowell
David Thewlis
Paul Bettany
Saffron Burrows
Kenneth Cranham
Jamie Foreman
Razaaq Adoti
Doug Allen
Eddie Marsan
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