Gangs of New York
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Jay Cocks
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly
In its early ages, New York City was a dirty, filthy, muddled mess, sprawling over an untamable piece of land, controlled nothing more than the violent, greedy people who were trying to civilize it. With immigration and war on the rise, it was growing faster than ever, more torn that ever and more important than ever. Despite the bloodshed, it bloomed with the nation, undertaking a rapid transformation that would summarize America’s birth and stay in the world. In more ways than one, Gangs of New York is just like the city.
The film is often one that is most hacked by critics and Scorsese fans, mostly for its historical inaccuracy, length and muddled narrative. But just like the violent mess the city was, the movie follows suit, becoming a grand, grotesque but truthful epic tale of how a city and a nation were born.
Scorsese incorporates similar themes to his other famous works. There are the power struggles with men and women, violence as a substitution for sex, violence within class, nationality and religion. This movie hits them all, and it hits them with brute force.
The first scene in the film sets the tone for the rest of the film. Scorsese builds the tension with a war-time preparation underneath a chaotic church at the Five Points, which is to the home of many battle scenes to come. When the setting gets switched to outside, it’s a quiet and snowy-white landscape that shortly gets turned to red in one of the most grueling battle sequences ever shot. Every frame is madness and beauty, something Scorsese excels at.
As far as plot goes, its nearly unimportant when compared to the performances and production value, but it’s still a fantastic script. Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) returns to the Five Points about two decades after the death of his father and goes under the wing of the kingpin Bill the Butcher (Lewis), the very man who murdered his father. Vallon’s bond with the Butcher begins to get stronger and is complicated by a mutual bedmate (Diaz). Against the backdrop of an influx of oncoming Irish immigration and the Civil War recruitment, violence within the gangs is only heightened to new heights.
Lewis is the real draw in the gang, with his clever antics and great towering persona that grabs you from the get. It’s right up there with his performance in There Will Be Blood without question. It’s a performance as landmark and concrete as the future streets he’d walk if his American pride didn’t stand in the way. DiCaprio has a youthful ferocity does everything to embody revolution and the rising spirit of the immigrants leads. In a way it’s a perfect clash, not as strong as the clash in There Will Be Blood with conflicting capitalism ideals and religion, but it’s nearly as intense as the action.
Scorsese is an expert for setting. Surrounding himself with the proper production team, including Sandy Powell’s amazing costuming and tapping U2 to help with a credit song, Scorsese builds something very unique to cinema that most films or books are unable to achieve. It’s a whole sense of “thereness.” The sets, the costumes, the choreography is all epic and impressive in scale, and thankfully size is matched with skill with Scorsese behind the camera.
Together, these visionaries, crews, actors and musicians come together of different backgrounds, nationalities and classes, but with similar ambitions to come to a new place and put out something that is profoundly grand and epic as ever. Sound familiar?