Gangster No. 1 (2000)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Gangster Film, Crime Thriller  |   Release Date - Jun 14, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - Germany , United Kingdom , Ireland   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Donald Guarisco

The slick yet brutal take on the British gangster film doesn't add anything new to the canon but still manages to offer up a fairly interesting take on this genre. The narrative hook of Gangster No. 1 is that it never tries to make the title character sympathetic or humane: he remains chilly and brutal from start to finish. As a result, Gangster No. 1 is a tough film to warm up to but genre fans will find it worthwhile for a number a reasons. The first is its high caliber of performances: Paul Bettany cuts a dashing yet scary figure as the young Gangster 55, vividly bringing his quiet psychosis to life through a combination of icy glares and controlled bursts of rage, while Malcolm McDowell's work as the older version of this character stuns the viewer by utilizing considerable skill for bombast to create a man who has been ruined by his inability to show or feel human warmth. There is also some sharp supporting work from David Thewlis as the tough yet humane gangster that Gangster 55 fetishizes and Saffron Burrows as the good-hearted moll who suffers for her decision to stand by her man. Director Paul McGuigan lends a stylish eye to the tale using slick visuals, frenetic editing, and a jazzy John Dankworth score to effectively offset the brutal edges of his subject matter without ever softening it. He also pulls of some inspired stylistic flourishes, the best being a vicious murder whose gruesomeness is all suggested via point-of-view camerawork. The end result is a chilly but powerful experience that is not for sensitive viewers but is stylish and substantial enough to make a viewing worthwhile for crime movie buffs.