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3.8 out of 5 stars
Gangster No. 1 [DVD]
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2005
A true example of British film-making at it's best.
This film has some of the sharpest writing, mesmerising acting, stylish editing and unconventional cinematography I have ever seen.
Paul Bettany is actually frightening as young Gangster: in this film he seems to hold a rage within him that always remains just below the surface of his completely calm but fuming expression, but which occaisionally bursts out in short, sharp explosions, bordering on pure madness. When he forces his 'victims' (for want of a better word) to look at him - "Look at my eyes" - you find your gaze riveted to the screen.
Malcolm MacDowell is equally brilliant as Gangster's older self, displaying how truly unhinged the character is, how he has been damaged by his quest for power. And David Thewlis is, as usual, perfect in his role of Freddie Mays - sleek, smart, clever - the epitome of British gangster without becoming a cliche, as he brings something to his character which the usual No#1 Gangster in British films is almost always without.
An amazing film, I strongly suggest you watch it: it will broaden your mind and change your previous ideas of controversy.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2010
This has to be one of the best films of its kind - and it's really rather difficult to classify. Perhaps it's better not to try - perhaps it's better just to revel in this wickedly unpleasant and often darkly amusing British tale of gangster rule by violence and menace.

While I am the first person to abhor violence and bad language in films (both ingredients are so often a compensation for a movie's inadequacies) GANGSTER No.1 gets away with murder. Many times over. Packed to the hilt with oodles of beating, stabbing, slashing and slaying, none of the violence or astonishing use of expletives is gratuitous. It's all driven with crazed logic by the oddball and psychopathic characters that inhabit the screen throughout this fascinating movie's horribly well-constructed 97 minutes.

From the moment it begins, the audience can't help but be riveted to these tough guys in sharp suits who rule the shadowy streets of '60s London. The excellent cast does the screenplay proud, obviously relishing every extreme moment. The gore is copious - as copious as the five-star swearwords, but the effect is never less than stunning, and for all the right reasons.

This film has great style, and ably survives its mildly disappointing - though somehow inevitable - finale, and is superbly directed and photographed. I can only wonder why it isn't better known, and I'm very glad to have discovered it. It's a worthy companion to classics like 'The Krays', 'Get Carter' and 'the Long Good Friday'.

Enjoy - if that's the right word - because you certainly won't forget it in a hurry.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2004
Firstly - it's not actually that violent. As in 'Reservior Dogs', the director does a clever job of making us think we've witnessed violence when actually it's nuch more inferred than actual.
Secondly - superb camerawork makes the sixties flashback scenes look as though they were filmed at the time - there's a 'Get Carter' feel to the proceedings which is beautifully observed.
Thirdly - Paul Bettany's performance is truly chilling. A genuine monster, cold and emotionless expect at moments of great violence or, most scarily, when his face contorts demonically for a moment in the knowledge of something dreadful he's about to do.
Fourthly - it would be great, except for losing its way in the last half hour, when Bettany is replaced by McDowell. It's never realy possible to believe that Bettany and McDowell are playing the same character - the latter a tired, twisted criminal plutocrat, the former a psychopath with no real personality we can grasp. McDowell's performance is very good, if a bit by-the-numbers, but simply doesn't fit with Bettany's otherworldiness. The oddness really becomes apparent when he plays against David Thewlis' Freddie Mays, his betrayed former boss, who is (convincingly) aged up for the part - why not do the same for Bettany?
Very good, and at this price definititely worth the money. But a missed opportunity to be so much more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Gangster No. 1 is directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Johnny Ferguson, Louis Mellis and David Scinto. It stars David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Malcolm McDowell, Saffron Burrows, Kenneth Cranham, Jamie Foreman and Eddie Marsan. Music is by John Dankworth and cinematography by Peter Sova.

Gangster 55 (McDowell/Bettany as the younger version) looks back on his brutal life, on how he became a gangster...

The British gangster genre of film was gathering apace in 2000. Guy Ritchie's Snatch would wow critics later in the year, while Ben Kingsley's ferocious turn in Sexy Beast (David Scinto and Louis Mellis co-write on that as well) would even get an Oscar nomination, yet Gangster No. 1 is the equal of both films but still doesn't have the acclaim afforded the others - undeservedly so.

Predominantly set in the late 60s, with period flavours strong, pic doesn't pull its punches, and yet it is never over gratuitous with the violence and mania (but you do feel it big time) that surrounds Gangster 55 (Bettany brilliantly feral and frightening). It's with the characterisations where McGuigan's film gets its strength, we witness greed, blood lust and the yearning of power via chilling portrayals, set to the back drop of a scuzzy London underworld where even the vermin don't dare to dwell. This is a film not wanting to be loved thematically, but the top performances across the board and pic's ability to grab you by the throat - to not let go - makes it a rip-snorting slice of evil. Essential for those interested in the British gangster film revival of the noughties. 8/10
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2011
A cut above the myriad of Danny Dyer, London gangster films, No.1 has fantastic attention to detail and on the whole is very watchable, despite some fairly graphic violence, which to be fair is to be expected....

Paul Bettany is wonderfully menacing as the young gangster and McDowall carries off the part of his older incarnation well. Indeed on the whole the film is well cast, the only slighly odd choice (as noted by a previous reviewer) was that of David Thewlis to play Freddie Mays, he came across as neither dapper or authoritarian enough to be believable and slightly spoiled what was otherwise an excellent film.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2002
This is what Gangster films should be like. There are no ultimate winners in this game. Everyone is a victim no matter where they sit in this moral slimepit.
Paul Bettany gives a searing portrayal of our anti-hero, the Gangster No.1 of this tale. He plays it the way it is meant to be. There is nothing about him that you want to like. In fact, all of the gangsters portrayed are bereft of any traits that are remotely admirable. He barely clings to sanity in everything he does and constantly challenges himself to cross the boundaries of decent human behaviour. There is a very strong homo-erotic undertow in this tale of one person's fixation on becoming top dog, which is not fully explored unlike the mid-Sixties' "Villain" which starred Richard Burton. Interestingly, our boy's arrival at the pinnacle of crimelordery is a hollow win. He now has what he wants, the material trappings the 'respect', the noteriety and pursues these long after his peers have long since grown up and obtained a life.
I loved this film as it did not glamorise its subject matter and spared you nothing in terms of violence and its consequences.
If I was to make any gripe about this film, it would have been regarding the casting of our protagonists in young and older form. Both actors are superb, but too physically dissimilar for my sensibilities. Second and lastly, I would have preferred a different ending.
One hell of a film and proves that we can still make great films.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 October 2003
Amidst the coarse script, thick cockney accents and graturitous violence, there is a certain delecacy to be found in this production; an intricate balance between narrative and character study. The mental decline of the (nameless) protagonist is a study in evil, callousness and envy; his fatal flaw being his ill-contentment of celebacy. 'What is it you've got, that I aint' he mutters to the toppled 'Freddie Mays' on this subject.
The film is much more intelligent than most of its critics and thought prevoking in the extreem - I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2001
This is one hardcore gangster movie. Forget the skull in the vice scene in Casino, this film makes Joe Pesci and Pals look like they should be on primetime Nickelodeon! Totally savage! And believable too - a harsh portrayal of Gangland London from the 1960s up to the present day, and the determination of one man to become the overlord of the underworld.
This is not for the faint hearted, so if you get queasy easily don't bother. This is not a glorification of gangster activities - as excellent as films like Casino, Goodfellas, et al are, they always tend to come across with the central character[s] as a semi-hero. Not so Gangster No. 1. This is a tale which, although totally enthralling, is at the same time positively disgusting in it's unashamed, gritty view of the real London Underground.
Paul Bettany really does make you shift uncomfortably as the unhinged, unnamed (and particularly in the undressed scenes - for reasons which will become quite obvious when seen) central character who will stop at nothing to, quite literally become the Number 1 gangster in all London.
The cinematography is superb and the soundtrack does the film the same justice, especially the musically silent scenes, filled only with whimperings, slaps and very foul language!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 20 April 2001
This is a brilliantly presented and told story of unrivalled lust for power. The story charts the rise of Gangster, played by Bettany, and his ruthless rise to power at the expense of the unbelievably likeable Gangster Mays. The McDowell finale and narration are as superb as the direction, which whilst being occasionally repellant, paints Gangsters as what they are ,ruthless, ambitious and extremely violent. This is a far cry from the Dick Van Dyke Cockneys of Guy Ritchie's cinema world and is all the better for it
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2009
Gangster No.1 is a real little masterpiece - the type of movie one discovers and then proselytises. The performances of David Thewlis, Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell are outstanding. The direction is inspired and the storytelling tight -every event is integral to the story, and the scene-setting always achieved within the bounds of the narrative events. Gangster No.1 is a little different, and it serves as both an allegory and reflection on the false glamour of organised criminality. It may even leave you a little spooked... Superb
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