gangster no. 1(2001)
director: paul mcguigan
malcolm mcdowell, david thewlis, paul bettany

. The cinematic bloodbath that’s been issuing from Britain over the last few years has been nothing if not stylish. As cameras lunge about and the screen splits into shards -- the better to assault the audience, my dear -- the cinematic underworld of Britain’s cities strut about in impeccable threads through startling sets, knee-deep in gore and attitude. 

The trend, begun with Guy Ritchie’s films and reaching its zenith in the recent Sexy Beast, begins its slide into caricature with Paul McGuigan’s Gangster No. 1, a film as needlessly nasty as it lovely to watch.

The films follows a London gang boss, played by Malcolm McDowell in the present and Paul Bettany (Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale) in the past, as he confronts his obsession with his onetime boss, played by David Thewlis. The film’s heart and soul resides in go-go 1968, where Bettany and Thewlis, in cruelly sharp suits, circle menacingly through eye-gougingly over-decorated rooms, shot in garish deep focus by cinematographer Peter Soya (Donnie Brasco, Diner).

There’s a girl -- an obligatory plot point played by Saffron Burrows -- and casually homoerotic undertones. There’s an awful, endless execution, shot from the perspective of the victim. By the end, there’s been a terrible lot of overacting, courtesy mostly of McDowell, and a regrettable lack of editing. In spite of the lush visuals and generous brutality, it’s really just a slip of a story about romantic obsession among psychotics, about twenty minutes too long and a few plot twists short of real value.