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Gangster #1

Starring: Paul Bettany, Malcolm McDowell, David Thewlis, and Saffron Burrows
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Written by: Johnny Ferguson
Rated: R

Bluntly Speaking? Gangster#1 is yet another look at the decidedly savage underworld of merry old England. But that is where the similarities end and the brilliance begins. Gangster # 1 makes recent underworld imports like Snatch and Mean Machine look like Mary F*****G Poppins!

Stellar performances by both Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell along with superb direction make this mandatory viewing if you loved the legendary no apologies bit-on-the-nasty-side-ultra-violence.

We meet an elegant, yet oddly immediately disturbing, gentleman sitting ringside at a swanky boxing match. He's living the good life; smoking a cigar, wearing expensive clothes and wearing hand made shoes. He's with a similar group of older tough talking well dressed chaps you just know aren't into proper banking positions. As the discussion turns to a bloke named Freddie Mays who is "getting out" after thirty odd years of incarceration the elegant man begins to morph and one can literally feel the wave of animal hate brewing as his face goes white.

As he stumbles to the bathroom, one imagines to get some air he, Gangster (Malcolm McDowell), turns to the camera and starts to tell us his life's tale.

It's 1968 he's young again (Paul Bettany) and full of anger ready to rob steal and kill his way to the top. His gangster hero Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) aka The Butcher of Mayfair has heard of him and decides he'd be just the type of bloke his burgeoning crime crew would need.

Gangster is thrilled to be working for his idol and thinks of Freddie as a crime mentor. Gangster thoroughly enjoys his duties for Freddie which include but are not limited to sodding up people who borrow and don't pay back, a bit of general maiming, a smidge of killing and a whole look of intimidation for good measure. Keeping the locals in check if you will. Gangster has developed a nitch of his own that involves an ax and carving kit designed, not for human flesh, but wood.

Getting chills yet?

Freddy Mays who's both hero and Godfather to the young buck Gangster is arrested for a Mobland murder and is sent up to the big house for twenty-five to thirty years. Gangster, who is a tad ambitious takes over immediately. Of course it's as a favor....he's just manning the helm while Freddie's away. Sweet guy.

Sounds mundane and riddled with the usual suspects, I know, but have faith. Just look at the cast. This is not simply a hack gangster film. Gangster #1 is an original styled and overtly blunt look at the non-redeemable sorts that walk among us. The camera work is fantastic. Director Paul McGuigan even utilizes multi-split screen shots effectively. The cinematography, by Peter Sova, captures your senses unaware as he impeccably sets the tone of each scene.

Paul Bettany as Younger Gangster is devilishly evil. And Paulie's innocent choir boy fix-you-a-spot-of-tea-and-fluff-a-pillow-dear? good looks will soon dissipate as you bite into his psychotic portrayal of this unnerving horrible being. If you thought seeing Gandhi, er, Ben Kingsley switch stereotypes and sleaze it up in Sexy Beast was a treat wait till you see this brilliant performance by Bettany. Which in a word is flawless. Paul's a bit of man yum anyway. He's a multileveled Sheppard's Pie of a lad. Each tasty layer makes way to reveal another deeper richer layer below even more delicious than the last. A fine blooming actor.

Not since A Clockwork Orange has Malcolm McDowell been sovile or so unrelenting in delivery of his character. As Gangster the Older he is without a heart; a malevolent sod beyond redemption and past perdition. McDowell deliciously oozes blackness and those large twinkling eyes shift subtly in a nano-second between kind and sane to cruel and insane. It is another perfect performance by a great, great actor.

David Thewlis, who plays overlord expelled Freddie Mays, looks as if he shares The Who's Pete Townshend's DNA. Davie plays Freddie as a believable charming ladies man gangster with a subtle yet forceful slice of sinister.

Saffron Burrows, who plays Karen, Freddie's love interest and Gangster's pseudo -nemesis, is a remarkable actress as well as being stunningly beautiful.

If you're into British gangster films that don't tip-toe through the gruesome parts or pretty up the dialog you may have to see this a couple of times, it is just that good. Gangster #1 is a tad violent (read - very) so don't take the kids or the weaker stomached. The rest of you tough tikes enjoy!

Snack recommendation: Sweet tea and crumpets for us normal folks and lithium and shock treatment for Gangster.


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