Gangster No. 1

British Psycho: Our young anti-hero (Bettany) has a cigarette break to calm down after a bit of ultra-violence.
dir Paul McGuigan scr Johnny Ferguson
with Malcolm McDowell, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Saffron Burrows, Kenneth Cranham, Andrew Lincoln, Jamie Foreman, Razaaq Adoti, Doug Allen, Eddie Marsan, David Kennedy, Cavan Clerkin
release UK 9.Jun.00; US 14.Jun.02
FilmFour 00/UK 2 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
You could call this one British Psycho. Gangster No 1 is a dark, grim drama about a man who lets violence and jealousy eat away at him until he's like the epicentre of an atom bomb, causing havoc for anyone who's nearby. It's a stylish, cleverly made film with some very intriguing performances. But it's so relentlessly vicious that it's hard to sit through.

At age 55, our unnamed gangster (McDowell) has it all as the head of the London mafia. Then he hears that his former boss Freddie Mays (Thewlis) has been released from prison, and he takes a walk down memory lane, remembering the day in 1968 when he joined the mob as a young man (Bettany) with a serious violent streak ... and how he moved through the ranks until he could unseat Freddie and his girlfriend (Burrows), take control of the gang and live the high life. This requires a string of double-crosses and increasingly sadistic murders. And when he gets to the top he's forced to examine the true meaning of success.

Yes, there are some terrific themes here--the characters are layered, fascinating and very well-played, with telling direction from McGuigan that more than makes up for his dreadful last film, The Acid House. On the other hand, the violence seems gratuitously gruesome, like the filmmakers were pleased that they thought up each bit of horrific bloodletting to show how soulless the central figure is. This pushes the film over a line, alienating us from its characters and the issues concerned and blackening the script's wit right out of existence. In the end it's just so miserable and sad that we can't care much about anyone.

[18--strong violence, language, themes] 27.Apr.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall