Gangster No. 1 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… Gangster No. 1 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… 2002-06-14 R PT103M Drama Mystery and Thriller Paul Bettany Malcolm McDowell Saffron Burrows Kenneth Cranham David Thewlis IFC Films
Movie Review

Gangster No. 1 (2002)

MPAA Rating: R
Malcolm McDowell, Gangster No. 1 | SCOWL PLAY McDowell is the middle-aged ''Gangster''
Image credit: Gangster No.1: Peter Mountain
SCOWL PLAY McDowell is the middle-aged ''Gangster''
EW's GRADE
B

Details Limited Release: Jun 14, 2002; Rated: R; Length: 103 Minutes; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; With: Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell; Distributor: IFC Films

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.

Originally posted Jun 12, 2002 Published in issue #659 Order article reprints