Gangs of New York-2002
Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz
Scott’s Review #1,327
Reviewed December 26, 2022
Gangs of New York (2002) is an extremely violent and bloody epic by director Martin Scorsese that is an exquisite piece of filmmaking nearly flawless in every way except maybe its length and story.
On the one hand, it’s a beautifully choreographed and filmed crime drama with perfect costumes, art direction, and cinematography. Still, on the other, it’s tedious and lengthy, especially during the final hour, with choppy storytelling and seemingly one long continuous battle.
Scorsese being Scorsese and knowing his way around crafting an excellent film or two left me ruminating over the cinema and pondering whether I’d ever need to see it again.
Usually, I’m all in when it comes to repeated viewings of his films, especially Raging Bull (1980) or Goodfellas (1990) but with Gangs of New York, the sobering almost three hours running time and the non-stop bloodshed gives me pause.
It’s not a mafia film but it is an Irish-centered crime drama harkening back to the mid-1800s so there are historical lessons to be exposed to. Familiar with most of his films there are good guys, bad guys, and a criminal, feuding overtone, and lots of grit and grime to plow through.
I can’t say it’s one of Scorsese’s top 10 but it’s a grandiose, epic-length behemoth that features a host of top-name talent but there are nonetheless aspects that leave it slightly beneath his most famous works.
But that’s nearly akin to comparing the works of Beethoven, Rembrandt, or other geniuses of one art form or another. Anyone respecting Scorsese or appreciating good cinema should see Gangs of New York.
Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young Irish immigrant released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against his father’s killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) also known as ‘The Butcher’, a brutal and powerful anti-immigrant gang leader.
He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting’s inner circle. Amsterdam’s journey becomes a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860’s New York.
The most delicious part of the film is the rivalry between Amsterdam and ‘The Butcher’. DiCaprio and Day-Lewis make powerful sparring partners and as much as Amsterdam’s motivations are admirable it’s Day-Lewis who has the more interesting character.
To no one’s surprise, the actor channels his inner dictator as he method acts throughout the film. To no one’s additional surprise he steals the show away from other tremendous actors like DiCaprio, Jim Broadbent, and John C. Reilly in supporting roles.
Although I need to ask why Day-Lewis was selected for the Lead Actor Oscar category when he is a supporting one.
Worthy of mention is Cameron Diaz who, for once, plays a dramatic role of a pickpocket. Typically cast in comedic roles she shows she has acting chops.
The story gets a bit wayward about halfway through and I stopped giving the story much credence about three-quarters of the way through. It’s as if Scorsese had frenetic schizophrenia moments with tons of good ideas but none of them formulating a cohesive plot.
The New York City setting is a favorite of mine especially pre-civil war and well before the NYC of modern times even existed. The prevalence of Canal Street and various others make this northeasterner heavily invested in geography.
Finally, to bring it all full circle, Gangs of New York powerfully reminds the audience of the age-old topic of immigration and how those who have citizenship too often oppose those who desire to enter a country they once also did.
‘The Butcher’s brutal opposition is a sad reminder of how the United States of America was never united and the senseless violence towards immigrants is never-ending.
Gangs of New York (2002) may not be Scorsese’s best work but even on his worst day, he creates a film worth watching. Mixing toxic masculinity, and revenge with a crazy story he succeeds where other directors might fail by providing compelling filmmaking with all the fixings.
Just don’t get too hung up on the story points.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actor-Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“The Hands That Built America”, Best Sound