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Gangs of New York (2002)

In 1846 Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), a man who believes that those born and raised in the United States are the only ones who genuinely deserve the right to live there, and ‘Priest’ Vallon (Liam Neeson), an Irish immigrant, square off in order to determine who will remain in the Five Points of New York. The two represent their respective Gangs of New York and are dead set on doing their people proud. The scrum ultimately leads to the death of Vallon while his son, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), watches. Sixteen years later, Amsterdam has returned to the Five Points area to exact revenge on his father’s killer and settle the score.


Talk about a wild opening! Within the first five minutes writers Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, along with famed director Martin Scorsese, introduce viewers to extreme violence, blood-soaked streets and an accurate representation of what America looked like in the mid-nineteenth century. This introduction reels in viewers and allows them the opportunity to see, early on, the action-packed nature of Gangs of New York.


The brilliantly talented Scorsese has a keen eye for detail and viewers find themselves immersed in a vibrant and realistic rendition of mid-Civil War New York City. I felt compelled to do some research while watching Gangs of New York to see how accurate the sets are and how well nineteenth century New York is represented. Everything I found throughout my research proves how wonderfully thorough Scorsese was and how spot-on Gangs of New York is in comparison to the real thing. Beyond just the sets, the makeup, clothing, vernacular and mannerisms that fill the space in the film bring New York, the feuds between Americans and Irish immigrants and nearly every other aspect of this time in America to life. It seems impossible to top what is done in terms of visuals throughout Gangs of New York, as the individuals behind the scenes deserve credit that is often overlooked. Personnel such as Francesca Lo Schiavo (head of set design), Manlio Rocchetti (key makeup artist), Stefano Maria Ortolani (supervising art director) and Sandy Powell (costume designer) appear to have poured their hearts and souls into this film making it quite the spectacle and helping to add to its success.


DiCaprio and Day-Lewis are often regarded as some of the more talented actors in recent memory. They have the ability to embody each and every character they portray, bringing them to life and entertaining a wide-range of audiences. Gangs of New York finds both actors in roles familiar to those who have followed their careers. Amsterdam and The Butcher are ragtag individuals with interestingly quirky personalities. Their vibrant and one-of-a-kind approaches to their characters keep audiences engaged and exemplify what casting directors look for when looking for a star. The intensity of Gangs of New York is magnified by the vigor of Day-Lewis and DiCaprio, bringing the somewhat altered story of Bill the Butcher to the forefront of Hollywood and American mainstream.


Films of this nature are interesting enough on their own without added dimensions of a romantic relationship. The issues that live between Americans and Irish immigrants throughout Gangs of New York are enough to keep viewers engaged and genuinely interested in the film. Yet, the writers, for whatever reason, found the need to intertwine the story of Amsterdam and Billy the Butcher with one of romance. For nearly three hours I tried, with every fiber of my being, to understand the importance of Cameron Diaz’s Jenny Everdeane. It seems that her only purpose, however, is to further draw the divide between DiCaprio and Day-Lewis’ characters, a divide that was created early with the death of ‘Priest” Vallon and needed nothing else to propel it forward. Her presence does nothing for the story, and, in all honesty, waters down the ferocity of both Amsterdam and Billy to some degree.


Gangs of New York has so much going for it, and, even with the discouraging love triangle between Billy, Amsterdam and Jenny, the film finds well-deserved success. The acting, the sets, the brilliant dialogue and the ability of the cast and crew to bring to life, in accurate fashion, what life would have been like in the 1860’s all play a part in the genius that is Gangs of New York. Scorsese, Day-Lewis and DiCaprio don’t disappoint and do exactly what fans of the three have come to expect from them. It’s an incredibly long watch, clocking in at just under three hours, but there is never a dull moment and audiences find themselves entertained from beginning to end.


Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, etc.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐½/10


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