A Movie A Day #159: Gangster No. 1 (2000, directed by Paul McGuigan)


While at a boxing match, an aging gangster (Malcolm McDowell) learns that his former mentor and eventual rival, Freddy Mays (David Thewlis), is about to be released from prison.  The gangster flashes back to when he was a young man (played by Paul Bettany) who worked as an enforcer for and eventually betrayed Freddy.

Gangster No. 1 came out at the height of America’s fascination with British gangsters but this is no Guy Ritchie heist film.  Gangster No. 1 is brutal and violent, with little humor to alleviate the savagery.  Even though Gangster No. 1 does a good job recreating and capturing the look and feel of the swinging London of the 1960s, it still does away with almost all of the romantic revisionism that made many British crime films so popular in the late 90s and early aughts.  The gangster (who is nameless throughout the film) is not an eccentric anti-hero.  He’s not a Kray brother.  Unlike Freddy, who has integrity and is redeemed by his love for Karen (Saffron Burrows), the gangster is a violent sociopath who, when young, will do anything to be number one and who, when old, is disillusioned to discover just how empty life is at the top.  As violent and uncompromising as it is, it may not be a film for everyone but it still an interesting twist on the typical gangster film.

Even though it is hard to imagine Bettany growing up to look like McDowell, they both contribute good and complimentary performances as the same character.  David Thewlis also gives a good performance as Freddy Mays.  Since Thewlis is usually typecast as a villain, it’s always interesting to see him play a hero (or as close as anyone in Gangster No. 1 can come to being a hero).

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Wimbledon (dir by Richard Loncraine)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It is probably going to take her forever.  She recorded the 2004 romantic comedy, Wimbledon, off of Cinemax on February 15th.)

I wish I could play tennis.

Actually, I guess it would be more correct for me to say that I wish I could play tennis well.  I mean, I can hold the racket and I can run around the court and I can hit the ball and sometimes, it goes over the net.  I can do all the yelling and the grunting and the jumping.  I’m pretty good at slamming my racket down on the court whenever I miss a shot.  I can play the game but I just can’t win.  I’m way too easily distracted and that’s a shame because I’ve been told that I look cute in a tennis skirt.

It’s not for lack of trying either!  There’s a tennis court a few blocks away from my house and I’ve challenged both my sister and my BFF to several matches.  And, every time, they have totally kicked my ass.  In fact, now that I think about it, the only time I’ve ever won a set was because my opponent was feeling sorry for me and they had such confidence in their own abilities that they didn’t mind throwing a game or two.

(For the record, I’ve been told that, if not for my boobs getting in the way, I would have a pretty good golf swing.  But I don’t play golf so there you go…)

Anyway, I may not be able to play tennis but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy a movie about people I can.  I really like Wimbledon.  I mean — yes, it’s a totally predictable sports movie.  You know, as soon as you see the opening credits, that Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany are going to fall in love.  They’re the prettiest people in the movie so, of course they’re meant to be together!  And, as soon as you see Sam Neill’s name, you know that he’s going to be playing the well-intentioned but clueless authority figure who tries to keep them apart.  When James McAvoy’s name appears, you yell, “He’ll be Paul Bettany’s best mate!”  (Actually, he plays Paul’s eccentric younger brother.)  And as soon as Jon Favreau’s name appears, you’re like, “Comic relief!”

Of course, since the movie is called Wimbledon, you know that the movie is going to be about tennis and you know that Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are going to be competing at Wimbledon while falling in love.  You know that one of them will make it to the finals while the other sits in the stands and provides emotional support.  It’s just a question of which one.

As I said, it’s all totally predictable and yet, that’s actually a part of the film’s appeal.  With the plot being so obvious, you’re freed up to just appreciate the film as a vehicle of movie star charisma.  Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst are two of my favorite actors and I think they’re both criminally underrated.  In Wimbledon, Bettany is playing the older, veteran tennis player, the one who is playing at his final Wimbledon before retiring.  When he falls in love with Kirsten, it gives him a renewed sense of focus and, for the first time, he finds that he actually has a chance to win it all.  Kirsten, meanwhile, is the up-and-coming star.  Her father (Sam Neill) worries that Kirsten’s relationship with Paul will distract her and keep her from playing her best and it turns out that he’s absolutely right.

Even if you haven’t seen the film, you know everything that is going to happen but that’s okay.  Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany have got a really likable chemistry.  You want things to work out for them.  You want both of them to win championships and eventually get married and have a pretty family.  Bettany, in particular, proves that he can make even the most clichéd of lines sound fresh and spontaneous.  Add to that, both Paul and Kirsten look adorable in tennis white and that’s really all that most people ask for when it comes to a film like this.

Wimbledon is an enjoyable and predictable movie, one that won’t leave you feeling depressed or questioning the meaning of existence.  It may not be perfect but it’s certainly likable and sometimes, that’s all you need.