Gangster No 1

Gangster No 1


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

A word of advice fellas. If you’re girl is one of the many, many females offended by ‘the C word’, think again before choosing to watch Gangster No 1 with her. Full to the brim with venomous swearing and barking out more profanity than a Gordon Ramsay greatest hits, this is one flick that’ll fill your swear jar faster than you can say c...rime.

While an aging gangster (Malcolm McDowell) is enjoying the good life, he hears that the former mentor (David Thewlis) he envied and betrayed is about to be released from jail. Reflecting on the past, he reminisces on his younger self (Paul Bettany) and his rise to the top of the chain. However, despite getting to where he’s always wanted to be, there’s still something missing.

Copy picture

Okay, so the general premise isn’t exactly new – the young aspiring gangster rising to the top is practically the staple of the crime genre. However, what differentiates it is that our titular anti-hero (nameless throughout but referred to in the credits as ‘gangster 55’) doesn’t just want to replace Thewlis’ cool, tailored role model Freddie Mays, he wants to be him.

Indeed, its this psychological journey that keeps Gangster No 1 from getting lost in the sea of contemporary cockney gang flicks, where everyone says “caaaaant!” a lot. Crucially, newcomer Bettany gives an attention-grabbing turn as the young gangster 55. Sure, McDowell superbly bookends the film as the older version and provides the suitably expletive-laden narration, but it’s Bettany’s dead-eyed and largely monosyllabic star-making turn that really sells this internal descent into emptiness.

Sadly though, this is also the movie’s problem, as it’s just impossible to get under 55’s skin (unless, of course, you’re a loony yourself). As stylishly as it is shot by rookie director Paul McGuigan (check out the brutal point-of-view murder scene with Jamie Foreman’s rival mob boss), the ending isn’t particularly satisfying and there’s an ambiguity that runs throughout. Does our lad also fancy Mays? Why does he rarely speak? And why does he have a favourite axe?

Perhaps not as good as the sum of it’s parts, McGuigan’s second effort is visually impressive, a great comeback for McDowell and a launching pad for Bettany. Still, with the likes of Get Carter and The Long Good Friday out there, it’s not the number one Brit gangster movie.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2009
Share this with others on...
Gangster No 1 packshot
As his former mentor is due for release from jail a gangster considers his life.
Amazon link

Director: Paul McGuigan

Writer: Johnny Ferguson

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Saffron Burrows, Kenneth Cranham, Jamie Foreman, Eddie Marsan, Andrew Lincoln, Doug Allen, Razaaq Adoti, Cavan Clerkin, David Kennedy, Johnny Harris, Anton Saunders, Alex McSweeney

Year: 2000

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Germany, Ireland


Glasgow 2013

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Get Carter
The Long Good Friday