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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

DVD Review: Gangster

Gangster is based on the true story of Paul Ferris, a famous criminal in Glasgow. Also known as The Wee Man, this film stars Martin Compston (Piggy) as Paul Ferris, John Hannah as Tam McGraw, Patrick Bergin as Arthur Thompson, and Denis Lawson as Willie Ferris. The bulk of this film takes place in the 1980s, but it also uses flashbacks to the 1970s to show key moments from his youth that might account for the course his life took.

It opens with Paul Ferris in jail. We hear the sounds of someone being beaten. The film then cuts to Paul as a child, hearing similar sounds coming from a van outside his window. His father, Willie (Denis Lawson), agrees that the sounds are from monsters, and he gives Paul three rules to surviving in the harsh world outside their home: beware of strangers, be loyal, and be a lion. Young Paul then sees that it was in fact the police doing the beating.

Life is tough for young Paul, as he is bullied by some older boys, the Banks brothers, who early on are shown smacking him and kicking his dog. Six years later, Paul is going a date, but is still harassed by the Banks brothers. There is a nice moment where his father walks out with him, and tells him he knows he’s carrying a knife. He tells him to give it to him because if Paul has it he’ll end up using it and regretting it. But when the Banks brothers show up at the party, Paul goes back to retrieve the knife and ends up stabbing two guys. Because one of them was in the process of raping a woman, we figure, screw it, those guys deserve what they got. But so we don’t align ourselves too strongly with Paul Ferris, that scene is followed by a good, intense, quiet scene in which he reveals that he enjoyed stabbing those men.

Paul Ferris is invited to work for crime boss Arthur Thompson, known as The Godfather (and yes, in real life he was known by that name; and yes, the film does make a reference to the film The Godfather, as a couple of the men laugh at Junior Thompson for watching it repeatedly). In a flashback, we see Paul’s father warning him to stay away from Arthur Thompson, and in another flashback we see a good reason for his father’s warning.

John Hannah (one of my favorite actors) plays Tam McGraw, a businessman and criminal whose nickname “The Licensee” is said to come from the fact that he is an informant for the police and in return has license to do as he pleases.

While the story is interesting, it’s difficult to really like any of these people, even when Paul swears he’s going to lead a straight life. He realizes he’s becoming the very thing he hated (it sure takes him a while), and swears that he’s going to give up crime after his wife becomes pregnant. But there are good performances by Martin Compston, John Hannah, Patrick Bergin, Denis Lawson and especially by Stephen McCole as Junior Thompson.

The film seems to skip some important scenes, for there are times when it takes a moment to figure out just where we are, and just what the current status of the various relationships is. I wish the film would actually take more time. And I would have liked more scenes with Paul’s parents after Paul set out on the path of crime, especially as we get flashbacks of his father warning him to stay away from the very people he now aligns himself with. How did his father take it? How did their relationship change? There are little hints, but Paul’s relationship to his parents is interesting enough to warrant more scenes. Plus, it would just be nice to have more of his father because he’s played by Denis Lawson, whom many know as Wedge Antilles from the original Star Wars trilogy. (Lawson apparently turned down a role in the new Star Wars film – good for him.)

Sadly, at the end there is suddenly some terrible voice over narration by Paul Ferris: “Some people believe that destiny is preordained. I’m not sure. I like to think we each choose our own path. I chose to be a gangster.” Well, destiny, by definition, is preordained. The screenwriter should not use a word if he’s unsure of its definition.

The DVD includes the film’s trailer, which shockingly also uses that awful line of narration. Again, destiny is preordained.

Gangster is scheduled to be released on DVD on July 22, 2014 through Inception Media Group.

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