Gangs Of New York


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Gangs Of New York
"The acting is ensemble, which means no-one stands out and everyone chips in. Day-Lewis, unrecognisable behind a 'tache wedge, is the most memorable, due to The Butcher being a bigger sicko than anyone else."

Before the rule of law was adopted in New York City, bedlam's misrule reigned over the immigrant community. Absolute corruption corrupted absolutely and murder was so commonplace, reporting it became a futile gesture.

Martin Scorsese's epic tale of skulduggery and violence is even more extreme than Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America. The opening sequence stains the snow pink as opposing rabbles attempt to beat each others' brains out. The naked brutality of this and other scenes is difficult to stomach. If the birth pangs of Scorsese's home town were so painful, it is a miracle the infant survived.

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Amid the tumult of Irish gangs shouting the odds in a vain attempt at solidarity, the district of Five Points is dominated by a psychotic butcher, called Bill Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose habit of inflicting the fear of God into anyone who crosses his path often results in the ritualistic slaughter of innocents. He's not the only one. When things are quiet, the local politician (Jim Broadbent) arranges for a handful of unfortunates to be arrested on spurious charges and strung up, followed inevitably by an evening of revelry. The police are not expected to do their jobs ("The appearance of the law must be upheld," the politician insists. "Especially when it is being broken"), They collect protection money from neighbourhood thieves, instead. Democracy is neither understood, nor recognised; chaos rather than anarchy thrives.

The weakness of the script can be attributed to its lack of direction. Leonardo DiCaprio's character should be the focus of retribution, or, at least, something. Amsterdam, as he names himself, is the son of a radical priest (Liam Neeson), who was killed by The Butcher during a street battle in 1846. Sixteen years later, he leaves reform school and drifts into crime. Instead of taking revenge on his father's murderer, he joins his gang.

Cameron Diaz plays Jenny, another unrealised character. She is one of those impossibly talented pickpockets, who should have become a professional magician, or moved out of the area with all the money she's made, but hangs around with whores and cut-throats for sentimental reasons. After she and Amsterdam become an item, she is pushed to the back of the story and left there.

The Civil War is in its second year and a compulsory draft is in force, which leads to rioting amongst the poor. Gangs Of New York is not about that, although it gives Scorsese another opportunity to show the inhumanity of man - troops firing on women and children, etc. It is about the Irish abroad and how they carry their anger with them wherever they go.

A narrative voice-over has been added to try and make sense of all this mayhem, but fails to clarify the confusion. Five Points, where the action takes place, looks alien to anything currently considered Big in the Apple. During the later stages, Amsterdam lives in a catacomb with human skulls and no heating. Also, wounds have a miraculous ability to heal themselves. After being stabbed in the stomach by a carving knife, Amsterdam is back in the battle within a couple of days.

The acting is ensemble, which means no-one stands out and everyone chips in. Day-Lewis, unrecognisable behind a 'tache wedge, is the most memorable, due to The Butcher being a bigger sicko than anyone else. Diaz can't make something out of nothing and DiCaprio looks purposeful without having any purpose to be full of.

Scorsese has allowed the violence to go to his head. This is an ugly film and a messy one. After two-and-a-half hours, all you want is peace.

Reviewed on: 30 Dec 2002
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Violent story of brutality on the streets in the early days of New York.
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Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Gary Lewis, David Hemmings

Year: 2002

Runtime: 168 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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