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Gangster No. 1

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Malcolm McDowell, Gangster No. 1
Gangster No.1: Peter Mountain

Gangster No. 1

type:
Movie
Current Status:
In Season
mpaa:
R
runtime:
103 minutes
Limited Release Date:
06/14/02
performer:
Paul Bettany, Malcolm McDowell, Saffron Burrows, Kenneth Cranham, David Thewlis
director:
Paul McGuigan
author:
Johnny Ferguson
genre:
Drama, Mystery and Thriller

We gave it a B

British gangster movies have an advantage in shock value over their American counterparts: There’s an element of politeness hardwired into the English personality — even the cockney ruffians have it — and so the underworld violence becomes an assault on civility from the inside out. Gangster No. 1 is a canny, derivative, wildly gruesome portrait of a London sociopath who’s the scariest of sadists, in part because he’s also a very courtly one. Malcolm McDowell, with menacing close-cropped hair, plays this elegant monster in the smugness of middle age, but the heart of the film is set in the late ’60s, when he’s a ruthless young climber embodied, in a mesmerizing performance, by Paul Bettany, the scalawag scene-stealer from ”A Beautiful Mind.”

Pale blond, with a shark bite of a smile and barely visible eyebrows that give him the look of a feral alien, Bettany plays the sort of fellow for whom crime isn’t a means but an end. The crazier you think he’s going to get, the quicker he ups the ante to the next level of artful viciousness. Bettany is presented as a real-life version of the droogs in ”A Clockwork Orange.” A bit of the old ultraviolence gets his heart racing, but it’s not reward he seeks — it’s consummation. Stunt casting aside, he and McDowell don’t always seem like they’re playing the same person, but Bettany gives you more than enough to watch.