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GANGSTER NO. 1, 2000
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GANGSTER NO 1,  MOVIE POSTERGANGSTER NO 1, 2000
Movie Reviews

Directed by Paul McGuigan

Cast: Malcolm McDowell, David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, Saffron Burrows, Kenneth Cranham, Jamie Foreman
Review by Dean Madden


SYNOPSIS:

A middle-aged crime boss smugly reflects back from 1999, narrating the brutality which made him triumphant - and feared. As an unnamed young hood in Swinging 60's London, he aped his mod boss Freddie Mays, and seemed to do anything for him. But his narration exposes all-consuming envy: of Freddie's supremacy, and especially his tall bird. The baby shark develops his viciousness and backstabbing, scheming to be Gangster No. 1.

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REVIEW:

British gangland films; there are many great ones from ‘The Long Good Friday’ (DIR. John Mackenzie, 1982) all the way to ‘Layer Cake’ (DIR. Matthew Vaughn, 2004). ‘Gangster No.1’ – a film that almost snuck entirely under the radar – is genuinely one of the finest and wonderfully complex of the East End gangland film.

‘Gangster No.1’ tells the fictional tale of the nameless “Gangster” or “Gangster 55” (played by Malcolm McDowell). Gangster 55 sits comfortably at the very top of the ‘food chain’ of the East End criminal underworld. The film starts with him hearing the news that his old boss, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis), has just been released after serving over 30 years in prison. Disturbed by this news, Gangster 55 ponders over his criminal career, as the majority of the film depicts his step by step rise to power (Younger Gangster 55 is played by Paul Bettany).

Gangster’s story chronologically starts in 1968, where Gangster is recruited by Freddie Mays. He carries out tasks as ordered by his new boss, and often joins his boss on social affairs. It is during the first time we seen Gangster 55 and Mays enjoy a night out at their nightclub do we witness Gangster 55’s desire for Mays; not necessarily sexually, but definitely in terms of position and power. Gangster 55 discovers a plot to kill Mays and his girlfriend by a rival mob, and intentionally snubs it whilst successfully devises a plan of his own to frame Mays for murder. Prior to Mays release, Gangster 55 enjoys living in the lap of luxury but his insecurities rise once again when Mays is freed.

With these feelings rearing its ugly green head, Gangster 55 seeks out everyone involved with Mays and ultimately Mays himself (interestingly, older Gangster 55 is played by McDowell whilst the other characters are played by those who play their younger selves, but with prosthetics). The finale is wonderful and contains a sheer richness that a Shakespeare play might.

I mentioned briefly about Gangster 55’s desire for his boss wasn’t specifically sexual, but he does look upon Mays with concentrated admiration and with a homoerotic admiration. His passions are misplaced and are often surfaced by acts of pure barbaricism. For Gangster, sex is violence. In fact, this film has this overall feeling of a fresh approach to a genre which has been depicted numerous times (One scene, whilst not the goriest scene ever filmed, is one of the most violent yet stunning scenes I have ever witnessed and you’ll know you are watching something special from the moment you gaze upon it. It is honestly unforgettable). Gangster 55 is at the top of his game but desires something greater -something that Mays possesses, thus Gangster 55 experiences a void in his soul and searches for it; he feels as though he lacks an identity (“Gangster No.1” = ‘Gangster No one’, anyone?)

If one looks deeper into the elements that make up the vast majority of the truly great British gangster film, one will notice these elements of homosexuality, homoerotic-relationship and positions of male hierarchy. Not one film delves deeper into this more than McGuigan’s brilliant ‘Gangster Number one’ and proves to be the penultimate text of British gangster cinema.

McGuigan has made an excellent film with an absolutely fantastic cast. The actors and acting quality is superb and the film doesn’t drop a beat. It is excellently paced, filled with emotion and complexities not seen to this extent in a British gangster film. It is a great modern classic.

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