Gangster No. 1 [2000]

This glinting, scalding gangland phantasmagoria offers a sort of funhouse-mirror refraction of the life and career of a British hooligan so elemental in his right villainy that he's merely identified as "Gangster." The action begins in 1999, with Malcolm McDowell brutishly savoring his eminence as a crime lord; but more of the film is taken up with an extended flashback to 1968, when his youthful self--played by Paul Bettany (but voiced by McDowell during private reveries)--got his start. Bettany's patron is Freddie Mays, "the Butcher of Mayfair" (David Thewlis), a comparatively suave rotter whom "Young Gangster" more or less simultaneously worships, emulates, and craves to see destroyed. Director Paul McGuigan layers the eras and personalities in a kaleidoscope of jagged stylization (occasionally the image shatters like glass, then hellishly reconstitutes itself). The effect is less to tell a proper story than to suspend us in a state of mind--and a homage to McDowell's landmark role in A Clockwork Orange. But it does exert an unclean fascination. --Richard T. Jameson

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