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Gangs of New York
2002 - R - 164 Mins.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producer: Martin Scorsese, Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein
Written By: Jay Cocks and Steven Zallian and Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson
Review by: Carl Langley
   

One more Titanic wisecrack and I'll bust your lip!
Gangs of New York was originally supposed to be released in December of 2001, but due to 9/11, Miramax pushed Scorsese’s epic back to the summer of 2002. Dreamworks’ Road to Perdition was to duke it out against Gangs of New York, but once again Miramax pushed the saga back; this time to the month of December against a manifold of Oscar contenders. Expectations were only aroused as each month went by for the long awaited film that featured a star-studded cast and was directed by one of the best all time. The result: an elaborate, overwrought piece of work that had potential to be the greatest film of the year.

The movie delineates the New York Draft Riots of 1863 and also paints a portrait of several classes of life. There are the Natives of New York City and the thousands of Immigrants (mostly Irish) that come each day. The New York inhabitants form the Nativists and the Irish form the gang, Dead Rabbits. It is obvious Scorsese had great ambition to carefully visualize our history and its characters. The main plot is not the whole focus of the film, which is the movie’s best quality. Scorsese achieves it, in a shrewd way, with the riots, social life in each class, and historical facts.

Gangs of New York begins in the lower part of the city where a ferocious brawl consumes the streets of the Five Points, the place where both the Irish Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and Protestant Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) preside. These two men are the leaders of their gangs and although they have a great amount of hatred for one another; they have respect for each other as well. During the great battle of 1846, Priest Vallon is killed by The Butcher, which is witnessed by Vallon’s young son Amsterdam. The Butcher orders Amsterdam away to an orphanage called the Hellgate House of Reform. Fast forward sixteen years as Amsterdam emerges in his early 20’s (now played by Leonardo DiCaprio). He returns to the Five Points and with the help of Jenny (Cameron Diaz) and Johnny Sirocco (Henry Thomas), he devises a plan to ease the revenge flowing through his veins.

The battle scenes are nothing short of breathtaking. The first one falls at the beginning of the film and the rich details, such as the blood-drenched snow, are overwhelming. The gang battle near the end of the film, I will not indulge too much information on, except that it is surprisingly disappointing, yet effective.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are sufficient in their roles as Amsterdam and Jenny Everdeane – they do not do exceptionally good or bad. The “film stealer” award would go to Daniel Day-Lewis without a doubt. Not only is The Butcher one of the most audacious villains to hit cinema, Lewis plucks himself out of the mediocrity of the cast and stands on his own pedestal. This part was originally meant for Robert De Niro, who without a doubt would have accomplished this character. Daniel Day-Lewis convinces us that there is no one who could even attempt to seize the role. Not since Anthony Hopkins wore a skin make of another human as Hannibal has a villain chilled my spine frozen.

The supporting cast includes John C. Reilly (2002’s The Hours and Chicago), Jim Broadbent (2001’s Academy Award winner for Iris), Brendan Gleeson (2001’s Artificial Intelligence), Henry Thomas (2000’s All the Pretty Horses), and Liam Neeson (2002’s K19: The Widowmaker).

The cinematography and production design dispense detail to help portray the time era. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who worked with Scorsese previously in films such as Goodfellas and The Age of Innocence, and production designer Dante Ferretti (Bringing Out the Dead), brilliantly produce enduring images that leave you breathless, especially in the beginning and the end of the film.

Appealing and ruinous as many scenes are, Gangs of New York exhibits tiny flaws throughout the film. The slow pace elongates the film into almost three hours. Also, important characters such as Happy Jack (John C. Reilly), Johnny Sirocco, and William “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent) are not developed enough. This is what affects it negatively in the long run, but does not take away the impact of the film. But even with the minor errors, Scorsese creates one of the most brave and aspiring motion pictures of year.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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