Ten years on, American independent moviemakers seem to have come to terms with the anxiety of Quentin Tarantino's influencethe guns-&-blather template no longer gluts Sundance, and third-generation straight-to-tapers like 4 Dogs Playing Poker and Gunblast Vodka occupy only nominal Blockbuster shelf space. Not so with the British, whose industry's ironic-gangster saliva glands are still in overdrive, and whose reawakened taste for legendary Swinging London hoodlums scans oddly like cultural pride. Paul McGuigan's Gangster No. 1is in every way a typical tissue sample, as happily glib and vicious as its characters. Blanketed by a mannered you-fuckin'-cunt narration, McGuigan's movie travels between 1968when suave kingpin Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) takes on the unnamed punk protagonist (Paul Bettany) as a henchmanand today, when the aged rascal (Malcolm McDowell) awaits the prison release of his former boss, whom he had framed for murder.
Aspiring to Guy Ritchie-ness, McGuigan's film is significantly less inventive and frenetic, but just as unsubtle, limiting the psychopathology of Bettany's thug to a taste for tool-kit torture. Petty mob politics aside, there's not much going on between bloodbaths (usually shot through a halibut's eye) and rhapsodies about period mobster fashion. (Never have cufflinks been such a cause for hyperbole.) The actors all function as best they can as glowering clichés, though the narrative's temporal jump presents difficulties: The hero's 30-year transition is sketchy (Terence Stamp would've been more convincing, and taller, as the older Bettany), while the other actors play their elder selves with powder in their hair. Gangster No. 1 was adapted from a play, and little about it would be lost on the balcony's back row.
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Jason Richman and Michael Browning
Written and directed by Takashi Ishii
Opens June 14
As if in pragmatic response to the current soft-pedaling revenge fantasy Enough, Takashi Ishii's Freeze Megets its day in court at Cinema Village after causing concussions at Anthology's recent Asian series. A suffocating rape-payback horror show that hinges on the subgenre's most enabling victim (the perhaps inappropriately voluptuous Inoue Harumi) and an ebullient affection for industrial-model meat freezers, Ishii's rough-hewn film may be the nastiest entry in its dubious but resonant subgenre since I Spit on Your Grave. It's a black pearl for anyone who likes a little existential psychosis with their semi-softcore exploitation.
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