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Gangster Number One

Year: 2000
Studio: Film Four
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Saffron Burrows
This film promised a style all its own – of the late sixties organised crime era in working class Britain – and delivered it perfectly. The only problem was that it gave a whole lot more it need not have bothered with, overshadowing the central theme and atmosphere.

Young buck crim (Bettany, brilliant in his rendition of a cocky Brit thug) starts working for local kingpin (Thewlis, in the first role I've seen him in where he isn't supremely annoying) but wants to be top dog. He earns his bosses confidence and does a good job knocking off weasels and non-payers, breaking legs and smashing cars of double crossers, all the time waiting for his chance. Getting wind of an assassination by a rival boss, he lets it happen and takes his place at the top.

And that was all the setting the film needed to show a unique slice of life, but years later, his old boss (still Thewlis even though Malcolm McDowell has taken over as the older lead), who survived, is released from prison a changed man. For some reason, it haunts the protagonist and the entire last quarter is a waste of philosophising as he tries to work out his confusing problem at his former boss's release, making that part of the story mostly redundant.

Otherwise, the attention to detail in the costumes, language, ways of life and characters made it everything you hope for.

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