After watching this film, Judge Roy Hrab was a very unimpressed movie reviewer.
"Look after those that look after you…"—Dominic Noonan, aka Mr. Lattlay Fottfoy
The dictionary offers a definition of a gangster, but nothing on a "very British" gangster. Unfortunately, neither does the documentary film A Very British Gangster, directed by investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre. The film profiles Dominic Noonan, the (alleged) head of a Manchester crime family, over the course of three years.
The DVD case claims that this film offers "an astonishing view into the world of organized crime." However, there's no crime and little organization visible here. There's nothing much astonishing either. Rather this "documentary" presents some very selective slices of life involving Noonan and his gang of mostly teenaged boys. It is a rather drab, crude, and boring existence. The gang inhabits a dive of a house and attend to the concerns of poor, local residents, who, based on the involvement of Noonan, do not appear to have faith in the police when it comes to settling family disputes, personal security, and bad debts. This is not the glamorous and comfortable lives of Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, or Tony Soprano. There are no enforcers. No shootouts. No fist fights. No courtroom drama.
There is also no criminal activity and almost nothing to suggest that Noonan is charge of a criminal organization of any consequence beyond his small entourage. And while Noonan is legitimately menacing at times, especially when he threatens somebody off-camera for distracting him during filming, he is mostly jovial. He vaguely discusses the details of some crimes, including robberies and murders, that he is alleged to have committed (or ordered), and does so with a smirk on his face. Noonan may look like a thug, but he's smart enough to avoid incriminating himself on celluloid. Instead, Noonan asserts that he runs a legitimate security firm that offers protection to the community.
None of this is particularly engaging and begs the question…why was this documentary even produced?
So, what is the point of A Very British Gangster then? I don't have a compelling answer for this. If anything, it serves as an exercise in narcissism by Noonan. The film is just an opportunity for him to talk about himself. He clearly relishes being on camera and complaining about police persecution. He also gloats and boasts about the criminal charges he is acquitted of over the course of the film. Tellingly, there is never an interview with any of Noonan's victims, the police, local politicians, rival criminal gangs, or the parents of Noonan's young entourage. The only point of view given is Noonan's. Objectivity never appears to be a consideration. But then, isn't this exactly what to expect from a film proclaiming to be made "With the kind cooperation of the Noonan Family"?
Beyond the absence of genuineness, another annoyance is MacIntyre's blatant efforts to mimic The Sopranos via shots of Noonan driving around town as well as a pop soundtrack to accompany scenes of Noonan and his thugs walking around. Given the unremarkable lives of these people these embellishments come off as lame attempts to jazz-up the proceedings and cater to Noonan's ego.
Still, despite its many major faults, A Very British Gangster does have a few moments of (probably unintentional) insight that save the film from being complete rubbish. Two of the major ones involve Dominic's crack addicted and hitman brother, Desmond. The first is a discussion between Dominic and Desmond about how many people Desmond may (or may not) have murdered. It ends with the two brothers laughing at Desmond's inability to keep a straight-face while claiming he never killed anybody. The scene fully reveals the arrogance and lack of conscious of the two men. The second is Desmond's funeral (during production of the film, a drug dealer stabbed him to death following an argument). A reported 5,000 people lined the streets to watch the elaborate funeral procession that featured bagpipers and casket carried by horse drawn carriage. At the burial, Noonan's nephew sings "My Way." It's a completely bizarre sequence that speaks again to the inflated view that Noonan has of himself and highlights film's lack of objectivity (for example, why did so many people watch and how did Noonan afford such a lavish ceremony?).
Viewers are likely to emerge from watching A Very British Gangster of two minds. The film can be viewed as a statement on the banality of criminal life, but only if the needless stylistic flourishes and Noonan's many grandstanding moments are ignored. However, it is extremely difficult to shake the total lack of balance. Most (including myself) will conclude that the film is an unremarkable piece of tabloid journalism about an unremarkable criminal.
The technical aspects are fine. The video is clear. The audio is crisp, although the accents are occasionally quite thick. Luckily, non-optional English subtitles appear when things get particularly difficult to decipher.
The extras consist of eight deleted scenes. There's no obvious reason as to why they were cut.
Guilty. Aside from its ridiculous bias, A Very British Gangster is not that interesting.
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