Monday, February 12, 2018

Movie Review: "Gangs of New York" (2002)

Year Nominated: 2003
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Oscar Nominations: 10
Oscar Wins: 0
Running Time: 2 hours, 47 minutes

The son of a Five Points gang leader seeks vengeance against the man who killed his father, the leader of a rival gang named Bill 'The Butcher,' who controls the neighborhood.

Every actor has a transformative role that can change how the audience perceives and what they are capable of performing. In BigJ's opinion, Amsterdam Vallon in "Gangs of New York" is that role for Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, starring in a film directed by Martin Scorsese might do that for an actor. DiCaprio plays Vallon, who is the son of the leader of an old New York City gang called The Dead Rabbits and is made up mostly of Irish Catholic immigrants and their descendants. His father 'Priest' Vallon, played by Liam Neeson, was killed in battle by Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Bill 'The Butcher" is the leader of a rival gang known as The Federation of American Natives, an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration, anti-Irish street gang who are descended from those who lived in the United States since a time before the Revolutionary War. Years after his father's death and fresh out of reform school, Amsterdam starts in motion his plan to get revenge on Bill 'The Butcher.' Of course, this means he will need to get very close to his target, which will require him to infiltrate his gang and earn his respect.

In case you were wondering, no, "Gangs of New York" is not based on a true story. That being said, many of the characters are inspired by actual people, and many of the gangs are named after genuine gangs found in New York City in the mid-1800's. The main story itself is a simple tale of revenge, but bubbling in the background of this exaggerated version of the Five Points in lower Manhattan is an interesting look into the politics of New York in the Civil War era. We find this aspect in the movie very gripping.

While the story is interesting on its own, the acting elevates the entire project into something brilliant. Daniel Day-Lewis's performance as the film's antagonist is absolutely marvelous, but then again, when is a Day-Lewis performance not fantastic? With a greasy hair-do, a huge mustache, a deep-seeded hatred in his belly, and a glass eye emblazoned with an American eagle where his pupil should be, Day-Lewis is a masterful, menacing, despicable villain. We have said it before and we will say it again, Mr. Day-Lewis sure plays a good asshole. His role as Bill 'The Butcher' earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor, though he did not take home the golden statue that year and lost to Adrien Brody for his equally riveting performance in "The Pianist."

Another fantastic thing about "Gangs of New York" is its overall look. The art direction and costuming are visually compelling and very beautiful, even though the story takes place in a mostly dingy part of the city. We love how the look of the overly tall top hats, the colorful waistcoats, the fluffy dresses, and the oily hair come together to create a brilliant, cohesive aesthetic.

Unfortunately, this film is not without its flaws. The biggest problems for us come from its length, its pacing, and the casting of Cameron Diaz. The movie is way too long, it is way too slowly paced, and Diaz doesn't quite fit her role and has a distractingly bad accent that immediately took us out of the film.

"Gangs of New York" is an amazing spectacle of American cinema, one absolutely worth seeing at least once in your lifetime, though you may need a 1860's American slang dictionary to fully understand what people are saying.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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