Looking very much like a chubbier Andy Partridge, Manchester crime boss Dominic Noonan (AKA Lattlay Fottfoy – short for the Noonan family motto, ““Look after those that look after you, f**k off those that f**k off you”) matter-of-factly looks into director Donal Mac Intyre’s camera and describes his life of crime. From organizing a prison riot when he was doing a 10-year stretch for armed robbery to engineering his own escape from a prison van so he can pull a “double” (two armored car robberies in one day), Noonan’s life is one few of us can comprehend, and Mac Intyre’s documentary, “A Very British Gangster,” is like a Guy Ritchie film come to life, only with a better dressed cast.
The access Mac Intyre has to Noonan’s family and crew is astounding, and they speak quite openly about their activities and the tribulations of being the most well-known crime family in the area. The director asks some pointed questions and – surprisingly – doesn’t get a snooker cue across the skull for his trouble.
Almost more interesting than Noonan describing his shadier ventures is the footage of him in his main role as the area’s primary diplomat and dealmaker. Many residents call Noonan and other gangsters for protection, favors, and mediating disputes. It’s understandable: Dominic responds more quickly than the cops and actually gets results.
He meets with less success in his efforts to start up a “legitimate” security company, however, showing that the local constabulary has their own means of getting back at Noonan for his years of depredations, both real and alleged.
Noonan is also gay, a surprising fact that makes the amount of respect he commands among the largely working class population that much more impressive. His candid recollection of the times he was raped – repeatedly – in boarding school and the retribution he later visited upon his tormentors is one of he more chilling scenes in recent movie history, simply because you have no trouble believing him.
Mac Intyre keeps things lively, shooting things in the fashion of an actual gangster movie with an appropriately British rock soundtrack. While Noonan and his cronies have to strike a balance between not admitting to committing any wrongdoing (his brother dances around the question of his involvement in several murders) and still coming across as genuinely hard men. Among the more sobering scenes are those where Dominic’s young son (named Bugsy, of course) confesses he doesn’t want to end up like his dad.
Gangster, fixer, homosexual, devout Catholic…Dominic Noonan is all these things, and “A Very British Gangster” is a fascinating portrayal of a surprisingly complex individual and the major part loyalty and family play in his life.