Gangs of New York
(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
I have been seeing trailers for Gangs of New York for what seems like years now. I wanted to see the movie but I was very worried about the hat. You know what I mean. You must have seen it. That huge stovepipe hat that Daniel Day-Lewis is wearing at such a rakish angle in all the trailers. I mean, how can you take him seriously in that hat? Who needs The Cat in the Hat after this? Well, I have to say that, despite the hat, Daniel Day-Lewis is the best thing about this film. Gangs of New York tells the story of life in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City from the 1840's to the 1860's. In particular, it concerns the friction between native-born Americans and the new, mostly Irish, immigrants. The film begins with a battle between the native gangs led by Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the immigrant gangs led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). Neeson is killed in the battle. His young son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), witnesses the battle but escapes to grow up and seek revenge for his father's murder. As usual, the two enemies share the same woman (Cameron Diaz). This much one could discern from the trailers and there isn't much more to the plot, except that it takes place against the backdrop of the great events of the time. Historical figures come and go, in particular, Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent).
Martin Scorsese has planned to make Gangs of New York for about 30 years and he has produced a film of epic proportions. The film does a very good job of portraying the look and feel of life of 19th century Five Points but is not so good with the historical accuracy. In particular, the gang battles and the Draft riots were not quite so bloody as portrayed. For more details take a look at this nice summary. With exception of Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Broadbent, the rest of the cast look like they just got off the Wayback Machine from 2002. Even Scorsese has a little cameo. Lewis is amazing and very believable despite the hat. And Broadbent continues his run of great parts (Topsy Turvey, Moulin Rouge, Iris), showing that he can play any character role. He makes Boss Tweed kind of likeable. DiCaprio tries hard but this isn't really the role for him. He is much better in Catch Me If You Can. Cameron Diaz looks very good in her period costumes but this is a boy story and she is just window dressing. Look for Henry Thomas (Elliott from E.T.) as DiCaprio's childhood friend. David Hemmings continues his comeback (Gladiator, Last Orders, Spy Game) with a role here as a member of the upper crust of New York.
Gangs of New York is very
entertaining. But, the story is pretty shallow. At times,
it is very gritty but at other times, it is laughable. The various
gangs look like refugees from Hill
Street Blues. The film is dominated by blood and gore.
It isn't quite Starship Troopers
but it is right up there on the gore scale. The film begins and ends
with blood literally running in the streets. And in between, the
characters are constantly sharpening their knives. Gangs of New
York continues the recent run of very long movies. At 168 minutes,
it is up there with Harry Potter
and the Chamber of Secrets (161 minutes) and The
Two Towers (179 minutes). But, Scorsese doesn't let Gangs
of New York get draggy. He keeps the story moving and the presence
of Lewis makes it worth seeing.