"There can only be ONE."
Chronicles the rise and fall of a prominent, and particularly ruthless English gangster.
What a mug! The evil-harlequin mask of Malcolm McDowell, so familiar from those bugeyed closeups of him "mounching lumpchiks of toast" in A Clockwork Orange, has aged into a fabulous ruin. And one of the pleasures of the glib, slick, cocky, brutal, shallow, and terrifically entertaining Gangster No. 1 is in the realization that McDowell is the same McDowell--his voiceover has the same energetic sneer it had 31 years ago in Clockwork. He's the same guy under a withered and weathered facade. As Gangster No. 1--a sociopath with a schoolgirl crush on his boss, spit-shined David Thewlis--McDowell brings you into the succulent pleasures of aged corruption and long-swallowed brutality. No. 1's nuttiness--a kind of belch of guilt, generally released in Francis Bacon-derivative silent screams--seems, for a while, like fun. Paul Bettany, playing Young No. 1, has a great, lizardlike, histrionic deadpan--he keeps telling his victims "Look into my eyes!" as if something scary and deep were hidden there. (Instead, there is zero--an effect Young No. 1 may be unaware of.) The movie takes such a jaunty and directorially piquant view of its own shin-kicking nihilism that you can't help but play along; until the moralizing but utterly earned finale sets you on your ear.
Not deep stuff--not even as deep as the superbly unself-reflective head-smackers who made up Goodfellas' crew. But Saffron Burrows, as a Cockney chanteuse who's mad in love with Thewlis' Mr. Big, brings you back to the days of much-posher-and-prettier-than-their-parts British character actresses. And the director, Paul McGuigan, and Bettany keep the joint jumpin'.