Gangster No. 1 Movie Review

Sometimes, a film just goes beyond its means. Gangster No. 1 is just such a film. With a lukewarm gangster drama script, over-the-top performances from such actors as David Thewlis, Malcolm McDowell, and Paul Bettany, and Paul McGuigan's (The Acid House) exaggerated directing style, it just falls apart like Jell-O left in the sun.

Gangster No. 1 feels like pieces a bunch of other, better movies slapped together -- GoodFellas' musical selections, the violence from American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a dash of any Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie style of editing, Malcolm McDowell in a performance recalling A Clockwork Orange. Some of it's fun, but it just isn't original or creative.

Gangster No. 1 tells the tale of McDowell's aging crime lord -- "Gangster 55" -- recalling his days of youth (played by Paul Bettany) as he rose to power under boss Freddie Mays (David Thewlis). In order to become Gangster No. 1, McDowell/Bettany's character kicks deadbeats' asses as one of May's bodyguards, plays tough guy when trouble is around, and finagles Mays into a confrontation with a local mob boss, which results in Freddie's attempted murder. Gangster 55 then becomes No. 1 when the local mob boss is murdered, in ugly fashion, and 55 frames Freddie for it, giving him 30 years in the big house. The movie then fast-forwards as Gangster No. 1 builds his empire. But when the music is over, Gangster No. 1 -- now an older, crazed man -- is now forced to confront his past and the consequences of his actions when his old boss is released from prison.

Even though the script is predictable and the film takes a long time to get started, the acting provides the strongest recommendation for the film. The standout performance from the film does not belong to the ranting and raving McDowell, but rather to the cool and collected performance by Paul Bettany (the guy who played Chaucer in A Knight's Tale). Bettany's portrayal of a sadistic and ethnically challenged young chap who likes to saw people's limbs off is downright uncomfortable. Even in the moments before the mayhem, Bettany lets out silent screams illustrating his predatory intents, which sent shivers up my spine.

The DVD features a commentary from McGuigan as well as a (single) deleted scene and a making-of featurette. Screened at the 24th Annual Mill Valley Film Festival.

One down, 53 to go.


Gangster No. 1 Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2001


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