'America was born in the streets'

Preview by Jack Foley

WHAT THE US CRITICS HAD TO SAY: Martin Scorsese's eagerly-anticipated epic, Gangs of New York, has been years in the making but now that it has finally arrived, critics in America seem somewhat divided.

The film has certainly won its fair share of acclaim, notching up five Golden Globe nominations and securing a Best Actor honour for Daniel Day Lewis from both the Los Angeles and New York film critics (in their annual hand-outs).

Yet the movie, which opened on December 20, has not been greeted with unanimous praise, with plenty of journals registering disappointment after such a long wait.

Starting off in New York, however, the NY Post awarded it three out of four but said that it was 'marred by sketchy characters, a predictable storyline, stilted dialogue, empty symbolism and a theatricality that's enjoyable but serves no thematic purpose'. The New York Times, meanwhile, referred to it as 'brutal, flawed and indelible', while the New York Observer wrote that it's 'not bad enough to dismiss, but too dense and boring to praise, let's just call Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York the year's longest and most expensive cinematic disappointment'.

Variety, meanwhile, wrote that it 'falls somewhat short of great film status, but is still a richly impressive and densely realized work', while The Onion's AV Club said that it was 'a grand achievement in history and anthropology'.

FilmCritic.com was full of praise, however, awarding it four and a half out of five and declaring that it was 'Scorsese's most complete effort in years, the first (and only) 'must-see' movie of 2002'.

Film Journal International added that it is 'a mightily impressive recreation of a fascinating piece of history'.

But for every bit of high praise came an equally scathing piece of criticism. E! Online awarded it only a C+ and concluded that it was 'a bloody mess', while the Los Angeles Times declared that it was 'not … worth the wait'.

TV Guide referred to it as 'epic, meticulously researched and ultimately disappointing', while Village Voice felt that it is 'overshadowed by its own aspirations'.

Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, said that it was 'astonishing and audacious', while the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that it is 'an elaborately worked-over opus that's as tarted-up and artificial as Scorsese's '70s classic Mean Streets was gritty and real'.

Back on to the positives, however, and Slant Magazine wrote that 'never before has Scorsese been so willing to let his naked enthusiasm - his love not only for the history within the film and its characters but also the purity of cinema - reveal itself in all of its unabashed glory'.

The Miami Herald, however, was more mixed, writing that 'at its best, the movie gives you a taste of the epic Scorsese intended, an epic that, sadly, will forever remain in the filmmaker's imagination'.

Reel.Com, however, referred to it as 'a gruesome masterpiece, savage and majestic, unbearable and irresistible all at once'.

Finally, Entertainment Weekly awarded it an A- and wrote: "It begins, intimately, with an extreme close-up of eyes wide open. It ends, intimately, with an extreme close-up of an eye slowly shutting. Everything else in between is vast and hugely ambitious in Martin Scorsese's magisterial, scrambled historical epic Gangs of New York."

Indielondon will deliver its verdict on the film in January (although we have seen it and can recommend it!). In the meantime, scroll down for our earlier preview...

POSTED EARLIER: "Let us go on again, and plunge into the Five Points...lanes and alleys paved with mud knee-deep; ruined houses, open to the street...hideous tenements which take their names from robbery and murder; all that is loathsome, drooping and decayed is here."
Charles Dickens, American Notes

IT'S BEEN years in the making, but Martin Scorsese's eagerly-anticipated, epic tale of the dark, violent underworld of New York in the 1860s, Gangs of New York, will finally open in cinemas across the UK on January 10, 2003.

Starring Leonard DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly and Gary Lewis, the film chronicles the path to revenge taken by DiCaprio's Irish street-kid, Amsterdam Vallon, who saw his father killed by the bloodthirsty leader of the immigrant-bashing native Americans, Bill 'The Butcher' Poole (Day-Lewis).

Set against the backdrop of warring gangs and civic corruption in 1860s New York, the film promises to be both epic in scope and in length - with Scorsese reportedly having fallen out, on several occasions, with Miramax head honcho, Harvey Weinstein, over the final cut.

Whatever the finished product ends up being like, however, the movie remains one of the first must-see event movies of the New Year, but a 20-minute preview at this year's Cannes Film Festival suggests the wait has been worth it.

According to Scorsese, the movies poses questions such as 'what is America', while retaining the usual Scorsese trademarks, such as intense characterisation and moments of extreme violence.

Needless to say, with a picture this large (it is rumoured to have cost in the region of $97 million), Miramax will be sweating come Box Office time (it opens in the US at Christmas), particularly as it has been some time since their director last set the Box Office alight (with 1991's Cape Fear remake).

But with a cast that appeals to both the Friday night popcorn crowd, as well as the more discerning viewers, this should at the very least guarantee a massive first weekend draw. And the last time DiCaprio's name was attached to a costly predicted flop, the young star defied expectation to deliver one of the biggest money-spinners of all time!

The screenplay for the movie has been written by Jay Cocks (of The Age of Innocence) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) and Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On me) and Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove), and proceedings take place in the lawless, corrupt neighbourhood of Five Points, where the murderous warring Irish gangs hold sway.

The multi-award-winning production team boasts an extraordinary array of talent, including director of photography Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas), production designer Dante Ferretti (Interview With a Vampire), costume designer Sandy Powell (Shakespeare In Love) and editor Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull).

Gangs of New York is released in the UK through Entertainment Film Distributors.

Indielondon will, needless to say, keep you posted on further developments as its release date gets closer.

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