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Gangster No 1 review

Today's movie is brought to you by the letters F and C. The more tough guys there are on screen, the more they splash around swear words like a teenager with his first bottle of cheap aftershave. But the problem isn't that we're offended by the language - it's that huge chunks of dialogue exist without purpose.

In the context of the UK film industry, however, constant swearing is a 20-foot-tall signpost telling us that we've left the niceties of Notting Hill far behind and are venturing into the Isle Of Reservoir Dogs. There are more British crime films lying around our cinemas than there were bodies on the ground after the St Valentine's Day Massacre. Love, Honour&Obey, then Circus, now Gangster No 1, with Guy Ritchie's Snatch to follow... Like the mob-boys themselves, each tries to prove it's harder, smarter, cooler...

So by definition there can be nothing meek and mild about Paul McGuigan's follow-up to The Acid House. It's a film about bloody-minded ambition in all senses of the word, as an unnamed young thug plots the overthrow of his crime mentor while indulging his own psychotic tendencies.

The plot is all too familiar - - think Brutus and Caesar, Richard III, count-less men who would be king - - but McGuigan emphasises that our anti-hero isn't trying to replace his boss as much as become him. Yet he's sacrificing his own personality for a void - - by becoming Number One, he also becomes No one.

The authenticity is supplemented by a believable crimeworld cast of low-lifes: Thewlis plays camp underneath Mays's viciousness, making him seem all the more dangerous; and McDowell draws from his repertoire of screen nutters. But, despite the dual time-frame, Gangster No 1 ultimately belongs to new Brit talent Bettany.

There's nothing unexpected plotwise, and the violent flashpoints aren't enough to maintain momentum during the final act. Be grateful, then, for some terrific performances as we're dragged down a darkened Memory Lane for a solid kicking.

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