Bettany best known for his memorable roles in "A Beautiful Mind" and his recent
"Master and Commander" plays the unnamed Gangster 55 in this film that meshes
the mafia genre with the faux-stylish genre. In a film that's an interesting
hybrid of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Goodfellas", we're first given a glimpse into an
aged and weathered mobster played by the immortal Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork
Orange) who gives the audience his origin of his rise to power. Played by Paul
Bettany, he is a young McDowell who is recruited by the top gangster in the
neighborhood Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) and takes on a job as one of his
henchmen instantly adapting to his line of work. The young gangster is violent,
determined and soon begins to eye Mays' job despite the fact that Mays takes a
special liking to him and takes him under his wing.
The role for Bettany as
the young gangster is purposely silent and though he has very few lines in the
film he manages to steal the show from the often charming and electric McDowell.
There are scenes that rely simply on his facial expressions, a theme that runs
throughout the movie as he purposely challenges other mafia bosses henchmen with
searing firy looks. Bettany manages to bring this story to life with his great
firy eyes as McDowell narrates expressing his thought process at the time. It's
almost as if the young gangster wants to start a war to prove himself and he
manages to, once he begins becoming a loose cannon and handling rival gangsters.
The character Karen
(Saffron Burrows) is one of the only people who manages to see through the young
gangster and his true intentions towards his mentor but is never really able to
put a stop to him. Bettany manages to make good of the little bit of lines he's
given and truly steals the show from everyone else including a gory sequence in
which he brutally murders a mob boss. It's a scene that is truly worthy of a
snuff film as we watch him torture the man and relentlessly mutilate him before
the audiences eyes. The ending is truly interesting as we gaze upon the older
gangster (enter Malcolm McDowell) in which he discovers the person he tried to
kill early in the film Freddy Mays didn't die and though he's not top dog
anymore is happy.
The gangster realizes
this and begins to think about himself asking: He's on top of the world, but is
he happy now that he has no one to share it with and has he truly come out of
this situation the winner?
eagerly misses something a lot of the great mafia films have had: A. It fails to
bring about a true story structure, and B. It fails to have any truly memorable
cast of characters. The film, set at a nearly two hour mark fails to give a
truly engrossing story for the audience to be sucked into. "Reservoir Dogs" and
"Goodfellas", two favorites (of mine) and utter masterpieces that came to mind
while watching this, but I had to compare. "Goodfellas" had structure and
chronicled a young man's rise into power in the mafia and how it corrupted him,
it had a charismatic young lead and incredible supporting characters we loved to
hate while "Reservoir Dogs" has sheer charisma and leapt off the screen grabbing
the audience by their throats and never let go while presenting a mélange of
characters that we loved and hated.
"Gangster No. 1" as hip
and stylish as it attempts to be fails in every aspect, shape, way and form with
a disappointing story pulled from a talented cast. Paul Bettany is an excellent
actor and manage to present excellent chemistry alongside his acting equal
Russell Crowe in both movie but is rarely ever given a line the first half of
the film. I'm not sure of the writer or director attempted to present the
nameless young gangster as a symbol to mob violence, but somewhere across the
blurry line story and characters, the translation is lost. Most of the film
derives its atmosphere on the odd and unusual and some of it works but there are
others that I can't figure out. What was Bettany's characters fixation on the
eyes and why did he take such joy in murdering other people? While it's obvious
to say that he was just insane, we never get a glimpse into his life.
Then when he does manage
to rise to power as head honcho, the story fast-forwards into his life as a
middle aged man, enter Malcolm McDowell, but it would have been very interesting
to see this psychotic man's trip into madness and his insane rise to the top,
but alas, we're robbed of such an interesting notion and we immediately fast
forward to McDowell. If the story isn't broad enough, we're given annoying and
often tedious narration from McDowell who describes every little movement from
his character which attempts to be a lot like a "Pulp Fiction"-esque style but
inevitably becomes annoying and grating on the audience. Ultimately, the climax
is reduced to philosophical and existential dribble that seems incredibly out of
place among the short story.
Despite some really good performances especially from Bettany, this is a pretty terrible movie with a short story, derivative story elements, and plot holes galore which makes this very disappointing.