When a big budget movie undergoes the kind of problems "Gangs of New York" had in production,
the media spotlight rains down relentlessly. All parties involved have played down the on set problems, but they couldn't
play down the hype surrounding the movie. It was Leonardo DiCaprio's first film since the flop "The Beach," and Scorsese
managed to bring critical favorite Daniel Day-Lewis out of retirement. That, coupled with the escalating budget, made
it a film to watch. Skeptics were skeptical as to whether the film would deliver the goods. After the build up
and constant delays in release, it was impssible for the film to fufill its lofty expectations. Regardless, it is a
good film and a feast for film fans.
The project has been reported to be a life-long one for its director, the legendary Martin
Scorsese. He made his name with his films in the 70's, "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver," and set it in stone with
"Raging Bull" in 1980. So when he said that he was going to make a historical film about the gangs of the mid-1800's
in New York, people got excited. He probably did too. So, Miramax gave him a truckload of money and he gathered
some names to put up on the poster. And critics and fans held their breath in anticipation, many until their faces
The story of the film supposedly centers on Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio), but when Daniel Day-Lewis
is on camera as Bill the Butcher, he commands your attention. The film opens on the eyes of a young Amsterdam, then
pans to his father "Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson). Priest leads a group of Irish immigrants into battle against the "Native
Sons" of America, led by Bill the Butcher. The gangs meet in a snowy clearing between the beaten buildings of New York
City. Speeches are made, then blood is spilt, turning the ground red. Priest is killed at the hands of Bill, and
the Native Sons claim victory. All this happens right before the eyes of Amsterdam, who is put into Hells Gate Reformitory
for 16 years.
He exits a grown man filled with revenge in his heart. Amsterdam meets up with a gang
of thieves who pay tribute to The Butcher regularly. On a trip to deliver money and items to the man, he is introduced
first name only.
On a excursion to retrieve goods from a quarantined ship at the behest of The Butcher, he uses
his street smarts to come away with some cash when it seemed they were too late. This, as well as a victory in an impromptu
fight agianst one of Bill's men, impresses Bill and he takes Amsterdam under his wing.
Meanwhile, Amsterdam meets up with a sassy pickpocket played by Cameron Diaz. Her character,
Jenny, serves as little more than a plot device, but she does a fine job with what she is given. The sexual tension
is played up big time, maybe too much, but both Diaz and DiCaprio have combustible chemistry.
As for Day-Lewis, no one of the actors in the film received more attention and accolades than
him. He was seen by many to be in a two man race with Jack Nicholson to Oscar gold before Adrien Brody surprised everyone
with a win. The problem I have with his performance stems for his uncanny ability to overact. It's a great character
and parts of his performance, particularly his speech he delivers wrapped in an American Flag, are worthy of the praise he
received. Still, there are moments when the character becomes a characture.
The performance of Leonardo DiCaprio, coupled with his work in "Catch me if you Can," made him
the best actor of the Christmas movie season. It was a welcome departure from his boy toy image derived from "Titanic"
and numerous Teen Beat cover stories. His performance as Amsterdam Vallon has been downplayed by many critics and overshadowed
by Day-Lewis' flashier part, but his work is stellar.
The art direction and production values displayed are magnificent. Old New York
is painstakingly recreated amd never seems like a set.
The script has some problems, mainly the collection of different stories and historical events.
Some of these seem forced when put together. A film that included the draft riots portrayed in the film is not necessarily
without merit. The end doesn't come together well. Too many climatic events happen on top of each other and it
becomes bothersome but never unentertaining.
The film is shot in a beautiful, gritty fashion that only adds to the films quality. Scorsese
sets up some memorable shots and brings some larger than life characters into an intimate setting. It's a fine job.
So, if you've got two and a half hours and you like historical films, you'll probably enjoy
"Gangs of New York."