"Fascinating" (The Hollywood Reporter) and "sensational" (Los Angeles Times), this bold, innovative thriller chronicles the bloody, single-minded climb of a barbarous crime lord to power. Starring Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind), David Thewlis (Naked) and Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea), Gangster No. 1 enters the psyche of an unrepentant mobster and reveals the madman within. Bettany gives "a brilliantly eerie, star-making performance" (American Film Institute) as a ruthless mobster who slugs, claws and kills his way to the top. But when he learns that the former mentor (Thewlis) he put in prison is about to get out, this self-made monster must not only face a man whose life he ruined but the twisted remnants of his own demented conscience as well.
This glinting, scalding gangland phantasmagoria offers a sort of funhouse-mirror refraction of the life and career of a British hooligan so elemental in his right villainy that he's merely identified as "Gangster." The action begins in 1999, with Malcolm McDowell brutishly savoring his eminence as a crime lord; but more of the film is taken up with an extended flashback to 1968, when his youthful self--played by Paul Bettany (but voiced by McDowell during private reveries)--got his start. Bettany's patron is Freddie Mays, "the Butcher of Mayfair" (David Thewlis), a comparatively suave rotter whom "Young Gangster" more or less simultaneously worships, emulates, and craves to see destroyed. Director Paul McGuigan layers the eras and personalities in a kaleidoscope of jagged stylization (occasionally the image shatters like glass, then hellishly reconstitutes itself). The effect is less to tell a proper story than to suspend us in a state of mind--and a homage to McDowell's landmark role in A Clockwork Orange
. But it does exert an unclean fascination. --Richard T. Jameson