Gangster No. 1 is without doubt the most stylish British violent crime thriller from the many produced at the end of the 20th century. For all the pop-video glamour of Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, neither have anywhere near as much a sense of danger as is shown here. Paul Bettany ignites the screen with a fury that explodes far more than it smoulders beneath his tautly kept temper. The tale concerns his ascent to the titular position of primacy in 1960s London, told in flashback by his present-day self (an equally riveting Malcolm... McDowell). A lust for power won't allow anything to stand in either incarnation's way, especially the foppish posturing of established crime boss Freddie Mays (David Thewlis). What distinguishes this from many other tales of greed is that the never-named Gangster actually wants to be Freddie, not simply replace him. Saffron Burrows plays the suffering trophy moll in the middle of this personality clash and provides about the only level head and gentle tongue in what is otherwise a super-violent and super-profane script. This is what The Krays should have been, and therefore not for the squeamish. --Paul Tonks [show more]
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