I’ve always considered myself a bit of an Anglophile. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downing cups of tea and plates of fish ‘n’ chips on a daily basis, but I do find myself checking out BBC America and The Guardian more than the average Yank. I also really dig crime movies from across the pond. Maybe it’s the accents, or perhaps the double-decker buses. I’m not quite sure. One thing I do know is that the Brits excel at making gangster flicks that will boot you in the bollocks, then dump you in the Thames. Here are ten of the very best.
10 – Face (1997)
Robert Carlyle delivers one of his finest performances playing a career criminal who engineers the robbery of sixty million pounds from a London security depot. When the crew walks away with much less than they anticipated, they quickly turn on one another. Trust erodes. Gunplay ensues. Body counts rise. It’s bloody fantastic.
9 – Layer Cake (2004)
Before Daniel Craig slipped into his 007 suit and tie, he played an unnamed cocaine dealer who becomes embroiled in a serpentine plot involving kidnapping, stolen ecstasy, Serbian war criminals and the always engaging, Sienna Miller. The title is more than fitting. There are plenty of layers to peel back in this underrated thriller.
8 – Snatch (2000)
Director Guy Ritchie makes the first of two appearances on the list. A stolen diamond and a fixed boxing bout are at the heart of this dark comedy. As is the case with all Ritchie scripts, Snatch features a host of eccentric characters with odd names, such as Turkish, Brick Top, Boris “The Blade” and Bullet-Tooth Tony. An incomprehensible Brad Pitt nearly steals the movie playing a pugilist “pikey.”
7 – The General (1998)
Technically, this is an Irish story, but you need a black and white movie in the mix. Famed director John Boorman documents the rise and fall of real-life ’80s Dublin criminal mastermind, Martin Cahill. Brendan Gleeson shines as Cahill, and Jon Voight is solid as the chief Inspector tasked to bring him down. The General was also released in color, but I prefer the B&W version.
6 – Gangster No. 1 (2000)
Enjoy brutal flicks chock-full of blood, gore an explicit torture scenes? Of course you do. Paul Bettany is downright scary portraying an ambitious young enforcer obsessed with becoming his boss — the stylin’ and proflin’ Freddie Mays. Life on top isn’t all puppy dogs and ice cream cones. Turns out betrayal and a lifetime of guilt make strange bedfellows.
5 – The Long Good Friday (1980)
Bob Hoskins put himself on the acting map in this classic crime drama. He plays Harold Shand, an old school London kingpin trying to turn legit by brokering a multi-million dollar property redevelopment project. Too bad the IRA keeps screwing up his plans with exploding bombs. Hey, being the ruler of the criminal underworld ain’t easy. A sexy Helen Mirren spices things up.
4 – The Krays (1990)
You get not one, but two ruthless gangsters in this winner, which details the life and times of infamous twin brothers Ronald and Reginald Kray, who ruled London during the 1960s. The Krays didn’t treat their enemies with kid gloves. They were a gruesome twosome known for inflicting something called a “Chelsea Smile.” It’s anything but funny.
3 – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Guy Ritchie’s feature-length debut took the film world by storm back in the late ’90s. It’s got high stakes poker, botched heists, robbers robbing robbers, and a pair of sweet looking guns. Sharp dialogue, inventive cinematography and colorful blokes named Bacon, Soap, Barry “The Baptist” and Nick “The Greek” separate it from the pack. It also features the first big screen appearance by future action stud Jason Statham.
2 – Sexy Beast (2000)
Ben Kingsley. Ian McShane. Ray Winstone. It doesn’t get much better than that. Winstone is retired safe-cracker Gal Dove, living the life in sunny Spain. Then nutjob Don Logan (Kingsley) shows up on Gal’s doorstep, demanding his services. Gal refuses, but Don won’t take no for an answer. Needless to say, things get messy. Kingsley deserved an Oscar for his frightening take.
1 – Get Carter (1971)
Forget the bullshit remake with Stallone. The original is where it’s at. Michael Caine is mobster Jack Carter, who embarks on a blood-strewn journey to avenge the mysterious murder of his brother. This isn’t just a great gangster movie. It’s a great damn movie, period. Caine kicks all kinds of ass and director Mike Hodges creates a grim, moody atmosphere that still holds up today.