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Film / Gangster No. 1

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Make us a cup of tea.
"I’m number one. Number fucking one."

Gangster No.1 is a film about the rise to power of the unnamed boss of London’s gangland as told by the man himself; Gangster. It stars Paul Bettany as Young Gangster, Malcolm McDowell as Old Gangster, David Thewlis, Saffron Burrows, and Kenneth Cranham.

The film begins at a boxing event at the table of several old London Gangsters drinking champagne, smoking cigars and swapping stories. The mention of the pending release of Gangster’s old boss and mentor, Freddy Mays, sparks dark and long-suppressed emotions and memories for Gangster. The focus shifts to the 1960s when Gangster was recruited by Freddy and the moulding of Gangster into a sharp dressed man and feared enforcer. This being gangland London, friction with rival gangs isn’t far away and when Gangster learns that Freddy is to be targeted by another firm led by Lenny Taylor note , he happily lets it play out so he can assume control of Freddy’s crew. After the “hit” on Freddy and his fiancé, Karen, has been carried out, Gangster brutally tortures Lenny in Lenny’s flat before throwing him head-first through a drinks cabinet.


Freddy and his fiancé somehow survive the attempt on their lives, but Freddy is wrongfully convicted of Lenny’s murder and sent down for 30 years. This leaves the Mays gang without a leader and Gangster assumes the throne. The years flash by with Gangster and his men taking control of London’s crime scene, staging heists, fixing horse races and opening a casino.

Back in the present day, Gangster learns that Freddy and Karen are to be married, seeks out Karen and demands that Freddy come and see him.



  • Ambition Is Evil: As the title of the film informs, Gangster is all about ambition and gaining power for its own sake, and he sneers at just about everyone who doesn't share the same drive to be at the top.
  • Art Imitates Art: Paul Bettany claimed that the Gangster's silent scream was inspired by Francis Bacon's Screaming Popes.
  • Ax-Crazy: Gangster is not quite right in the head and his preferred weapon is a hatchet. He certainly fits the bill.
  • Background Halo: In Lenny's POV scene while Gangster is torturing him, there is a 'halo' caused by the light fitting behind his head.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Most of the characters.
  • Bad Boss: Inverted. Freddy is a good boss to his men, Tommy is visibly distraught when Freddy is in hospital fighting for his life and sent to jail.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Gangster is just so damn unlikeable, nobody wants to be around him and he never settled down with anyone.
  • Big Fancy House: Freddy's.
  • Blood Knight: Gangster. He’ll happily go to the cobbles just for being looked at the wrong way.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Gangster addresses the audience early on.
  • Bros Before Hoes: Averted with Freddy, to Gangster's annoyance.
    "Just another bird. Just another skinny fucking bird!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb: They’re not the most refined of gentlemen.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: This film has it, along with a fair amount of hot-blooded torture too.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Gangster does not mess about when it comes to making sure he wins. He’s sneaky, will lay traps and has no problem engaging in dirty tactics to incapacitate before doing some quite naughty things.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: Gangster throughout his life. In his young days, he says he has women coming out of his ears, but later in his life it's clear that he's so crude, disgusting and violent that no woman will go near him.
  • Country Matters: The count is high.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Lenny.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Gangster is all about the life, to exclusion of most everything else.
  • Death by Irony: Gangster's own personality/identity issues and success conspire to finish him off.
  • Death Glare: Practiced by Gangster, numerous times. Especially with Maxie.
  • The Dragon:
    • Gangster is supposed to be this for Freddy. He starts out as this but soon becomes The Starscream and then the Dragon Ascendant once Freddy is shipped off to jail.
    • Maxie King to Lennie Taylor
  • Driven by Envy: Gangster's envy of Freddy is all-consuming.
  • Drunk with Power: How Gangster spends the rest of his life after he takes over the operation when Freddie is carted off to jail. He's so in love with power that he can't fathom why Freddie chose to remain small-time and how he can walk away from it after his time in jail.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Freddy with the reveal that Karen survived and has waited for him, and that their willing to start a new life away from the gangs, in spite of Gangster.
  • Electric Torture: Gangster dispenses some to Maxie.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Not much for partying, dancing or team spirit, Gangster has his eye on bigger things.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Gangster cannot understand or empathize with Freddy's behavior (likely because Gangster is a psychopath).
  • Evil Mentor: Freddy Mays to Gangster.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Freddy Mays. Such a prince…
  • Friend Versus Lover: When Karen starts taking up all of Freddy's attention.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The earliest point that we see Gangster in his life, he's just some random bloke playing pool when Freddie Mays recruits him as an enforcer. The allure of all that power and wealth hits him so immediately that he wastes no time in turning into the monster everyone comes to see him as.
  • Gayngster: By the way Gangster initially idolizes Freddie, gets so upset at his mentor falling in love, and generally obsessing over him even into old age, it's implied that he loves Freddy but can't understand or come to terms with the emotion because he's so crude and simple-minded.
  • Get It Over With: "Shoot me - for old time's sake, down memory lane, and all that."
  • Going Postal: Mad John in the supermarket.
  • Golf Clubbing: On a rival's goon.
    "Stone-Age xylophone!"
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Partial. We see Gangster splattered with blood as he hacks someone up, from their point of view.
  • Hates Small Talk: Gangster is terrible at it.
    Gangster: "So you're a fuckin' gold-digger, then?"
    Karen: "No, I'm not a fucking gold-digger. I'm a normal working girl."
    Gangster: "So you're a hooker? Well Freddy Mays don't pay for 'em."
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Subverted. Gangster is attracted to Freddy's class/wealth/status, not Freddy himself.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Gangster knows how to use them to intimidate.
  • I Just Want to Be You!: Gangster almost literally wants to become Freddy.
  • Infernal Background: Gangster is shown walking out of flames or with a background of fire.
  • Insistent Terminology: That's my favorite axe.
  • Jerkass: In a film about gangsters, there are not many people in this flick that you can strictly call nice.
  • Jumped Offthe Slippery Slope: Gangster takes to extreme violence like a duck to water without a second or even first thought.
  • Just a Gangster: Gangster. He also attempts to goad the reformed Freddy back into being one.
  • Karma Houdini: The gang member who betrayed Freddy is the last of the old gang not dead or in jail at the end of the movie, although he does suffer a little and seems to be kind of redeemed.
  • Kubrick Stare: Gangster pulls a few.
  • Lack of Empathy: While Tommy is breaking down on the road, Gangster is visibly amused and bemused at the display. Not long after, he uses Tommy's weakness against him to make him give up leadership.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Freddie Mays made a name for himself by killing a Dirty Cop and getting away with it. Naturally the corrupt police want to put him away, which is why Freddie insists on staying small-time and defusing conflicts with other gangs rather than eliminating rivals. When Gangster murders Lennie Taylor, the police finally get their revenge by making Freddie the Fall Guy for it.
  • London Gangster: Plenty of ‘em and they’re proper naughty.
  • Love Is a Weakness: "Love makes you fat."
  • Machete Mayhem: ...Naturally.
  • Madness Mantra: Mixed in with some cold blooded torture. It’s really rather chilling.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gangster.
  • Might Makes Right: Gangster's view of the world.
  • Narcissist: "Not bad-looking? Not bad looking? I'm a prince, darlin'."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The characters of both Lenny and Freddie seem to be based to some extent on the Kray Twins.
  • No Name Given: We never learn what Gangster's name is.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Subtle, but malicious when Gangster does it.
  • Psycho for Hire: The reason Gangster is recruited as an enforcer. He rather enjoys hurting and frightening people.
  • '70s Hair: Before Gangster becomes a gangster.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The movie's all about them.
  • Shame If Something Happened: "Kids, eh? Be the fuckin' death of you."
  • Shifting Voice of Madness: Notably in the build-up to Gangster's attack on Lenny.
    "Corridor. Walking. Machete. Axe. Gun. Chisel. Tools. 118. Fucking leather settee! 120. Fucking handmade shoes! 122. Draw back the hammer!"
  • The Scream: Like most of Gangster's actions throughout this film, his silent scream is not something that will help you sleep at night, especially as it always precedes him doing something Ax-Crazy. Paul Bettany looks like a fucking ghoul when he does it.
  • Shower of Angst: Gangster washes Lenny's blood off himself before sliding immediately back into his usual composure.
  • Slashed Throat: Karen at the hands of Lennie's gang, although unusually for the trope, she survives.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Gangster plays love songs in the background while preparing to torture someone to death. (Happens again in an [extended] deleted scene when he is torturing one of Lenny's henchmen too. It's darkly humorous given the lyrics... "Why" By Anthony Newley and "It Hurts me" by Elvis.)
  • Spiteful Spit: Gangster on the receiving end.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Gangster suggests Karen leave the room while the gang discuss the suspected death of another gang member. (Karen thinks Gangster is "just old fashioned" but it's more likely he just wants her out of the room since besides Eddie she's the only other one in it with the nouse to suspect him.)
  • Super OCD: Gangster's personal habits, ranging from arranging his clothes to placing down his torture instruments in a nice ordered line.
  • Stock British Phrases: Plenty in here.
  • Time-Compression Montage: The Mays gang's exploits from 1970 to 1999.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell play a younger and older Gangster respectively. This drew a lot of criticism because of their lack of physical similarity (even weirder because several other characters appeared in both the past and present, still played by the same actors), although it's implied that the Gangster is an Unreliable Narrator to some extent.
  • The Assimilator: Gangster wants everything his boss has, and even is.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Gangster, evidently.
  • The Quiet One: Gangster.
  • The Resenter:
    • Gangster idiolizes and envies Freddie while he's in charge; his whole sense of self-worth is built around gaining and having wealth and power, and later he absolutely hates Freddie for being clearly happier than him despite having no power or wealth in the end.
    • Gangster also comes to resent Freddy for becoming oblivious when he falls in love with Karen. Lenny Taylor notices it also and plots a gangland hit on Freddy. Rather than warn his former idol/mentor, Gangster allows Freddy to be attacked, since "love makes you fat".
  • The '60s: The majority of the film is set in the 60s in London.
  • The Sociopath: Gangster is a textbook specimen.
  • The Starscream: Gangster. Very much so.
  • The Unintelligible: Roland.
  • The Usurper: Gangster.
  • Title Drop: Over and over as part of Gangster’s Madness Mantra.
  • Villain Protagonist: Gangster.
  • Villainous Breakdown: In the end, Gangster can't deal with the emptiness of his own existence and lack of genuine identity. A result of Pyrrhic Villainy or maybe even that Victory Is Boring.
  • White Shirt of Death: Inverted: Gangster's bloodied white vest usually means horrific death for other people.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Averted, when Karen spits directly into Gangster's face. As is usually the case with Gangster, rather than shout and rage he adopts a more menacing approach: talking softly with an ominous smirk.