Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Audio commentary with Martin
Disc Two: Set design; Multi-angle feature exploring the sets;
Costume design; History of the Five Points area in New York; Five
Points study guide; Discovery Channel show 'Uncovering The Real
Gangs of New York'; U2 'The Hands That Built America' music video;
Making of; Theatrical trailer
A LABOUR of love, in film terms, can either be the crowning achievement
of any career (as with Peter Jacksons Lord
of the Rings trilogy), or an absolute disaster for all concerned
(as with Michael Ciminos Heavens Gate).
Given the history surrounding Martin Scorseses Gangs of
New York, the film could quite easily have fallen into the latter
Filming began in August 2000 after a 25-year development process
and ended up costing Miramax $90 million, while the release date
was repeatedly changed following a row over the movies running
time (it is now two hours and 45 minutes, compared with the four
hour print that Scorsese allegedly wanted to put out).
But the result is an epic achievement; a bloody slice of little
known history that succeeds on the grandest of scales, even though
there are flaws for all to see.
Set in and around the Five Points district of Manhattan during
a 17-year period, from 1846 to 1863, the movie opens with a brutal
gang battle, during which a young child, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo
DiCaprio), is forced to watch helplessly as his father is slain
at the hands of Bill The Butcher Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Sent away to an orphanage, Vallon grows up vowing revenge and
returns to the district years later, quickly infiltrating Bills
Native Americans gang in a bid to get close to its
blood-thirsty leader, only to find a father figure in the man
he has set out to kill.
The moral conundrum which follows is played out against the backdrop
of the American Civil War, one of the darkest periods in US history,
which resulted in the draft riots of 1863, when the army engaged
in a running battle with New Yorks civilians, turning the
streets red with blood.
As such, Scorseses film functions on two levels - as both
a classic story of revenge, well told, and as a fascinating historical
charter, with an uncanny eye for detail.
The look of the film is awesome (it was filmed at the Cinecitta
studios in Rome), while the performances are almost universally
excellent, with Day-Lewis stealing the show as the psychotic yet
honourable Bill, combining elements of De Niro-inspired paranoia
with something altogether more sinister and believable. His tussle
with DiCaprio is extremely well-played.
Yet there are times when the film feels as though it is missing
something. Though steeped in history, much of what happens during
the spectacular finale lacks the emotional punch you feel it warrants,
partly because many of the characters involved have been afforded
such little screen-time.
The upper classes, for instance, only appear fleetingly early
on, while one key member of DiCaprios gang feels chronically
under-developed, given the nature of his fate. It is during these
moments that one feels that the longer print may have been more
helpful, as would a greater understanding of the history of the
time - for the romanticism which now surrounds the Big Apple was
borne out of a rotten core.
That said, Scorseses labour of love remains a magnificent
movie, punctuated by some awe-inspiring set pieces and some powerhouse
acting from a cast which also includes John C Reilly, Liam Neeson,
Brendan Gleeson and Cameron Diaz.
This is, in short, a movie buffs dream - a glorious celebration
of all things Scorsese (many of his recurrent themes are explored
on a far grander scale) which recalls a bygone era of Hollywood
film-making (mixing the grandeur of Sergio Leone with the tragedy
of Shakespeare). It is a masterpiece - albeit a flawed one.