Cert: 18 Runtime: 167 mins Director: Martin Scorsese Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C.Reilly, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson
I took the father, now I’ll take the son
After watching Great Gatsby the other week I was thinking to myself, God I haven’t seen Gangs of new York for a while. For me I will never understand how Daniel Day-Lewis never one an Oscar for this film? Minus There Will Be Blood this is my favourite Day-Lewis film. Having seen his father killed in a major gang fight in New York, young Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is spirited away for his own safety. Some years later, he returns to the scene of his father’s death, the notorious Five Points district in New York. It’s 1863 and lower Manhattan is run by gangs, the most powerful of which is the Natives, headed by Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). He believes that America should belong to native-born Americans and opposes the waves of immigrants, mostly Irish, entering the city. It’s also the time of the Civil War and forced conscription leads to the worst riots in US history. Amid the violence and corruption, young Vallon tries to establish himself in the area and also seek revenge over his father’s death.Director Martin Scorsese’s deep fascination with the underground gangster lifestyle and complex inter-workings of illegal operations has led him to backtrack when gangs blatantly controlled the streets of what would soon become the most active and functioning city in America. Gangs of New York is a wickedly effective film, dark and crisp in most fields, including scenes that could easily be dubbed heartless and dehumanizing. Despite these traits, it makes for a devilishly entertaining film of epic length.
The performances, like in any other Scorsese picture, are intricate, marvellous, and absolutely engaging. While DiCaprio is sure to please the crowd, the standout is none other than Daniel Day-Lewis as the Butcher. The character is quite possibly the most ruthless and soulless villain we have ever seen, and what could’ve morphed into a one-dimensional, ridiculous antagonist, comes off and bleeds complexity and evil. Pure, unadulterated, fearful evil.A plethora of secondary characters keep the film going as well. Brendan Gleeson and John C. Reilly have wonderful roles, and Jim Broadbent gets some much-deserved screen time as the corrupt and desperate Boss Tweed, who will go to any length to receive votes in the forthcoming election. Like in any Scorsese film, there is a love story with the main character, this time involving the crafty con-woman Jenny, played by Cameron Diaz. While Diaz is fun to watch and is possibly doing some of her best work, she always seems to be one-upped by Day-Lewis’ and DiCaprio’s respective characters.Some have written off Gangs as Scorsese’s “messy masterpiece,” when it really is an interestingly made epic providing commentary on America’s explicit xenophobia at the time.
It’s 2013, and in a time where the immigration issue immediately turns heads, this film provides the brutally honest retelling of the nativists’ reception without being too hokey, biased, or heavy-handed. The film holds off on coating the story with sugar and sweetness because we have been told the soft-side of history for far too long.And that’s why I like the film so much; it’s daring and honest. It has a heavy layer of cynicism, that some may find too smothering and too mean-spirited. We can’t always be told the mild side of things, when there is a much greater lesson to be taught. Cynicism and pessimism are part of life, and as soon as we can realize that, the sooner we will be far more educated about the world around us.Gangs of New York tells a story that hasn’t been brought up too often, and its result is definitely commendable. One of the greatest emotions a film can bring to a person is the feeling of sadness and depression, and I have walked away with that feeling in all of Scorsese’s previous pictures, with the notable exception of Hugo. When Gangs ends, it feels like it has ended, and we are just left contemplating the great change New York has endured since 1862. Not much else. Regardless, this is a beautifully made film with enriching cinematography, beyond capable performances from actors of all different statuses, and refuses to sugarcoat history although it is in a great position to do so.