- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter a one-year delay, rumors of cast feuding and a skyrocketing budget, “Gangs of New York” has finally arrived in theaters, and just in time for the Oscars. To say this film won’t receive any nominations would be to completely underestimate the fine job that director Martin Scorsese has done, and though its beautiful cinematography and stirring plot are both cause for celebration, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis (who was pulled out of semi-retirement) that steals the show in his grand return to acting. It's a story of violence, revenge, racial intolerance and class struggle, and it’s a story told extremely well.
The year is 1863, and amidst the battlefield of the Civil War, there’s a smaller-scale fight waging for control over the Five Points of New York. Years earlier, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonard DiCaprio) witnessed the death of his father (Liam Neeson) during a battle for the very same stretch of land, and now, after hiding away for most of his adolescence, he’s returned to seek revenge on the man who killed him: Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Day-Lewis), the leader of the New York Natives. Amsterdam’s plans for revenge are put on hold, however, when Cutting welcomes him into his life, transforming him into a member of his own gang without realizing the kid's true intentions. But when Amsterdam’s identity is compromised, he must lead his fellow Irishmen into battle against the Natives for rightful ownership of the Five Points.
If Robert De Niro was Martin Scorsese’s muse of the last three decades, then surely Leonard DiCaprio will become the director’s go-to guy for the next three. Unfortunately, the actor is given very little to do this time around. He may be the backbone of the film, but his character is desperately in need of a little depth. Ditto for Cameron Diaz, who desperately tries to prove herself as a dramatic actress, but gets lost in the egofest between her two co-stars along the way. Of course, when you’re playing someone as deliciously villainous as Cutting, you’re expected to shine, and Daniel Day-Lewis does just that. Roaring with great intensity whenever he's onscreen, this is without a doubt one of the best performances of his career.
Despite being one of his more uneven films, “Gangs of New York” is still classic Scorsese. His gift for making great movies is evident here as he brings to life a historical event that most people probably don't even know about. And while some problems arise throughout the course of its 168-minute runtime (including an anti-climactic ending that will only make an impatient viewer that much more so), it’s still the kind of film the Academy Awards were made for. And if you need any more convincing than that, well then, you just don’t know a good film when you see one.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It’s too bad the Blu-Ray release of “Gangs of New York” hasn’t been given a proper update, because this is one film that deserved a bigger audience in 2002, and it remains true today. A carbon copy of the original DVD, the single-disc effort includes an insightful (but selective) audio commentary by director Martin Scorsese, three production featurettes, a short historical featurette, and a Discovery Channel special (“Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York”). Rounding out the set is a U2 music video because, obviously, nothing says 19th Century New York quite like U2.