Customer Reviews: Gangster No. 1
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on May 12, 2002
The first time I heard of "Gangster No. 1" was in the Globe And Mail. The one thing that intrigued me to find it upon it's DVD release, was the front quote.
"It's not who you know. It's who you kill."
Thus, my trip to Future Shop was to be a grand day on taking chances on films! Let me tell you, THIS MOVIE IS SUPERB. It does for gangster films in the same way Akira Kurosawa does for humanistic films, with a kick of style! For the first time, you don't get constant gore & language, unlike Scorsese's mafia flicks.
The year: 1968.
It brings forth a man known by the name of Gangster, who is extremely arrogant in his own way, to have a meeting with "The Butcher Of Mayfair," Freddie Mays. Mays has just won a case against the city, in a matter of him killing a cop. An extremely well known man with the mafia who has just reached the top for whacking this crooked copper. But Mays is still having problems it seems. The problem? Lennie Taylor, another rival gang boss who plans to take out Freddie and capture his territory. But when Gangster hears of this (being as arrogant as he is), he pulls together a plan to take both of them out, leaving the rest for himself at the top. With an ending that'll make you watch the movie over and over again, "Gangster No. 1" is quite effectively THE crime drama of 2001, no doubt about it!
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Director Paul McGuigan directed Paul Bettany in "The Reckoning" which was a stylish medieval thriller. He also directed "Wicker Park" whose soundtrack CD far exceeded the merits of the confusingly edited film. "Gangster No. 1" is a decent crime drama that paints an unsympathetic look at Gangster 55 played by Paul Bettany in younger years and Malcolm McDowell in older years. Bettany, whose recent romantic comedy "Wimbledon" was delightful and shows great range, is pretty scary here as a guy who has a great talent for hurting people. He gets picked up in Freddie Mays' mob and apparently becomes jealous when Mays falls in love with the gorgeous Saffron Burrows. David Thewlis who played Paul Verlaine to Leonardo DiCaprio's Rimbaud in "Total Eclipse" and also starred with Brad Pitt in "7 Years in Tibet" and most recently in "Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban" does a nice job of being the randy high roller in youth and then the older and reformed ex-con 25 years later. Saffron Burrows who narrated the most recent Peter Pan movie and also played in "Troy" does a nice job as Karen who falls in love and then gets the ultimate sore throat. Malcolm McDowell whose career was launched with "A Clockwork Orange" and most recently was the billionaire tycoon in "In Good Company" brings a great intensity to the role before his final swan dive. Although this film is a bit bloody, it still was an interesting and entertaining crime genre film. The pacing is a tightly controlled rampage. I particularly enjoyed the lad running through the parking structure before Bettany's careening car. The film is more visceral than thoughtful, but still interesting cinema. Enjoy!
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on June 22, 2002
GANGSTER #1 joins the elite group of the great mob films from the UK: THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, SEXY BEAST, the original GET CARTER & even from the U.S.: THE LIMEY. malcolm mcdowell gives the best performance of his career since TIME AFTER TIME and that was 1979! it is a shame that this great brit actor had to make [bad] movies over the years (CALIGULA being 1 of them!). mcdowell is the title character who is shocked to find out his old friend/enemy, the original #1 (david thewliss)is being released from prison. he flashes back to 1968 in which he was "gangster #55" devilishly played by paul bettany & it focuses on how he met #1 and wound up being #1 himself. the violence is brutal especially 1 horrific scene where a mob boss thru his point of view is tortured & killed by bettany w/ his gun, his ax, his machete, his hands, his evil looks, etc. bettany strongly resembles mcdowell giving that CLOCKWORK ORANGE stare. it is strange and wacky that bettany grows up to be mcdowell while david thewliss matures to be-----david thewliss in his 60s under good makeup! still, this is a fantastic feature by paul mcguigan, very colorful with a wonderful late 60s soundtrack! it is in my top 10 best films list of 2002. a small great treasure!
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on January 2, 2004
Gangster No. 1 is an absolute peach, a Cockney version Goodfellas, but darker. Whereas Scorcese paints a much larger picture in his maffia films, director Paul McGuigan narrows the focus on one upwardly mobile thug - depicting his meteoric rise from poolroom bum to king of the underworld (spanning the years 1968 - present day. Above all, Gangster No. 1 is a study of evil that makes Goodfellas look like Bugsy Malone. The acting, by Malcolm McDowell, David Thewliss (from "Naked") and in particular, the incendiary Paul Bettany - who is the pure personification of Evil - raises this movie high above Mafia-lite flicks like Snatch or Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrells. The film is top-quality in all other respects, too: the incidental music is spot on, the camerawork inventive and original, and - most importantly - Gangster No. 1 is a film that takes itself seriously. Not as high-budget or glamorous as Casino or Goodfellas (gangland London is no Las Vegas), but packs a powerful punch nevertheless.
Gangster No. 1 is a dark, brooding yet stylish film and shows that the Brits can make serious gangster movies when they put their minds to it. Non-Londoners might want to brush up on their Cockney slang, however, e.g. "You're having a laugh, arn't you?" = "You must be kidding", "Bird" = "Girlfriend", etc.
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on December 16, 2014
This. Movie. ROCKS!!! This became one of my all time favorites just recently. Violence, corruption, underhanded dealings and all with a very English rather than American organized crime flavor. Paul Bettany is AWESOME as a villain, ghostlike and sinister with his appearance and coloring as a small time hanger on in a pool hall who one day comes to meet a London gangster, Freddy Mays, who needs some more muscle to keep others in line. Paul (who is unnamed throughout this movie, but we assume he is Gangsters No 1) takes up with him, and becomes envious of Freddy's power and material things while Freddy admires the devotion and creative ways that the Gangster commits murder for him. Soon the Gangster is anxious, thinking that he wants to be in command and also wants Freddy out of the picture. He stands by and lets a lot of violence and corruption go down, and then murders Lennie Taylor (Freddy's chief rival) by hand with an axe in one of those most shockingly graphic murders ever caught on film. Then Freddy goes to jail, and the Gangster becomes the leader of his gang. For the next thirty years, the Gangster builds the empire and becomes more powerful than Freddy ever did. He's Number1.

The underline message here is that power corrupts and that life in the fast lane is full of a hundred million little seductions, and it's all damned sexy. And there's the right amount of sex and violence to make it all super cool.
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on September 19, 2002
Who is Freddie Mays? This is the inherent question that must be asked when trying to learn more about Gangster 55. Is Freddie Mays really the "Butcher of Mayfair" as everyone calls him?
David Thewlis (Naked, Besieged, 7 Years in Tibet) pulls off a brilliant Oscar-worthy performance as Freddie Mays, adding some genuine depth and subtlety to one that could've easily been overacted. He also provides a good balance for the highly stylized filmmaking that is chock full of grainy shots. Malcolm McDowell also provides a very intense post-Clockwork Orange performance that could very well be Alexander De Large all grown up. Paul Bettany who plays the younger Gangster 55 carries the same kind of crazed intensity and jealousy very well. Bettany also played John Nash's imaginary roommate, Charles, in "A Beautiful Mind". It's possible Brian Grazer may have hired Bettany after seeing him in this movie.
So who is truly Gangster No. 1? Who holds the kind of power that everyone else envies? You will have to see for yourself... This movie is somewhat graphic with its violence, so people with no stomach for it should steer clear. Expect great acting, small laughs and very stylish photographic visuals.
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on May 6, 2004
The other reviewer on this page who called this film a "character study" nailed it. The two lead gangsters Freddy Mays and (soon to be) gangster#1 could just as easily have been corporate execs., or two proball players, or....get the idea. This is a story about one mans driving, overwelming ambition to be #1, and what in the end is he left with when confronted with the man who was #1 but had it all stolen. More or less in a nut shell.
This is why any comparison to Goodfellas,et al is silly. The gangster life is window dressing, making the film more entertaining, yes ( if you like violence thats mostly implied, but implied well) but essential to the main theme. Gangsters are used here the same way Ann Rice uses vampires, to comment about the human condition.
Paul McGuigan directs well, using intresting camara techniques, and great lighting to show the lead characters descent into ambitious maddness. He uses music to its full effectiveness ( Reservoir Dogs ) with a rather happy "Because I Love You" adding to the evil menace of a murder scene which is the set piece of the film.
Needless ( I believe )to say the acting is primo.
This DVD edition has an informative featurette, and intresting if a little dry director commentary. I highly recommend for those who like serious character study ( but dont whine about the violence and language), as well as those who enjoy a fun little gangster flick. Its enough of both.
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on November 3, 2002
I think this movie is one of the best gangster movies i have seen in a long time. I can even go on and compare it with other classics like "Scarface" and "Reservoir dogs". The best thing about this movie is the acting which was very realistic. There are two two scences that i cant get out of my head. I wont mention the first one i will let be a surprise for you if you havent seen the movie. and the other one is an interrogatation scene where Gangster # 1 try to get information out of a thief, you would not believe how scared that thief was "he fainted out of terror". if you have not seen this movie, you are missing a lot. By the way i bought this movie together with "sexy Beast" which is another superb movie and i gotta say, the British are making a very good gangster movies lately.
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on January 9, 2007
...only it's new. Directed by Paul McGuigan in 2000 it's a bit underrated. It's hard gangster like Long Good Friday, The Krays, the acting and writing great and the period work flawless. It feels like a film made back then. It's an early film of this director who's also done Lucky #Slevin, also worth seeing. In any case, I consider this one a keeper.
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on January 20, 2006
....when some reviewers call this one of the worst or worst movies they have seen.

Not a bad Brit 'gangster' movie. No it is not the Godfather.

Brit gangster films are different. My fave being The Long Good Friday with Bob Hoskins.

Interesting character studies of the leading 3 players.
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