for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.
John C. Reilly
Gangs of New York was an intruiging and entertaining epic that didn't engage me as much as I had hoped. It was almost as if this was a wanna-be documentary with a story of revenge thrown in to have some kind of focus.
Gangs ruled New York in the mid-1800s. Each gang had their own portion of the island. In one epic battle gangs combined with the Priest leading one group and Bill the Butcher leading the other. The Priest represented the immigrants new to the island, while the Butcher led the 'natives' who ran roughshod over everyone. After a horrific battle, the Butcher takes out the Priest, in front of the Priest's son. 16 years later the Priest's son, who goes by the name Amsterdam, comes back to the 5 Points, bent on revenge. He ends up getting in good with the Butcher's gang and becomes the Butcher's right hand man, even saving his life at one point. But a 'friend' betrays him and soon the Butcher and Amsterdam go head to head. In the meantime, the U.S. is in the middle of the Civil War and has instituted a draft. The fathers and sons of the poor all get drafted because they can't afford the $300 drop-out price. While the gangs are simmering in New York, everyone is upset with the government. When Bill the Butcher and Amsterdam finally meet on the field of battle, they are upstaged by the government turning its sites on the rioters in New York. In the end many die, and all are forgotten.
I guess I enjoyed Gangs of New York but I'm not completely sure if that's because I've been looking forward to this film for a year, or if it was because it was a really good movie. At a little under three hours, the movie never really felt slow so I was entertained throughout. I think the on-screen presence of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis certainly played a huge role in that. Before DiCaprio became the heartthrob he became due to Titanic, he was considered a pretty good actor having even been nominated for an Academy Award for What's Eating Gilbert Grape? about ten years ago. And Oscar winner Day-Lewis is easily one of the finest actors working today, even if he only decides to do a film once every few years. So it helps that the movie is totally focused on these two because that means they're on screen constantly so there is always someone for the audience to hold on to.
That being said, it felt to me like director Martin Scorcese wanted to make a film about how New York was in the mid-1800s, but knew that he couldn't just make a historical drama without having some kind of story for people to latch on to. So he creates a story about revenge and uses that as a way of telling the story he really wanted to tell. The end of the movie was a little confusing to me as it kept switching back and forth from the rioting to the showdown. The entire movie built up towards this showdown between these two icons and yet when the time came, they were overshadowed by an even larger battle. And while that may have been Scorcese's point, to me it made the end of the movie disappointing. As if he was saying, I've built this huge confrontation for over two hours but it really doesn't matter since my point is that even these large battles are small compared to what's happening in the rest of the country.
Like I said, it was the acting performances that truly made this film. From DiCaprio and Day-Lewis through Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent and Brendan Gleeson, the actors were all top-notch. The look and feel of the film was tremendous as I really got a feel for being in downtown Manhattan in the 1800s. I thought the music fit in perfectly with the film and the battle scenes, while not as graphic as I had been lead to believe, were done fairly well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, Gangs of New York was a solid, well made film filled with wonderful performances. But in the end, I feel about this how I feel about most Scorcese films. They're extremely well made with amazing performances, but the stories themselves feel empty as if Scorcese shows us one thing on screen when he really wants to say something else.
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