Review of 'Gangs of New York'

gangs_of_new_york.jpg This long, drawn out film tells the story of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) who as a child witnesses the tragic death of his father 'Priest' Vallon (Liam Neeson) at the hands of New York gang supremo Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). As a young man he works his way into Cutting's inner circle, mimicking the ultraviolence of those around him in enforcing their will on the people. Their world is centred around the “Five Points” district of early-1860s Lower Manhattan where criminality is rife and violence endemic. Amsterdam falls in love with master pick-pocket Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) but their love is doomed with his all-consuming passion for vengeance.

This film looks quite good with impressive, massive sets and a huge cast. This is not entirely surprising from Scorsese though it also feels hugely indulgent with an extremely slow pace and long running time. While we get to know the characters more it is not that we really want to with none of them having any redeemable qualities whatsoever. The story is about revenge plain and simple, though seemingly justified. Blood is splattered across the screen from the first few minutes of the film and only lets up for gratuitous swearing and pantomime characters and accents as well as several scenes of sex and nudity to keep the viewer presumably entertained if they have not already wandered off.

There are some big names here starting with a young Di Caprio as the troubled youth looking to write a wrong done to him as a child. His character wears a perpetual frown with an air of self-entitlement that he seems to have never grown up leaving not a lot of nuance available for Di Caprio to pick up on. Daniel Day-Lewis is the maniacal Bill Cutting whose only goal seems to kill every “non-American” on the planet and, er, that is about it. He is a pantomime villain and has no redeeming qualities which leaves Day-Lewis room only to ham it up for the camera. Sure he plays at being a mentor and has a certain amount of charm this all so superficial it is farcical. Jim Broadbent plays Boss Tweed head of the local government whose corruption can be read a mile away and is suitably camp. His performance is reminiscent of his role as club-owner Harrold Zidler in Moulin Rouge and about the same depth of character. Cameron Diaz plays an interesting roll as an attractive but hardened pick-pocket that manages to capture Amsterdam's heart though entirely what she sees in him (beyond his good looks) is unclear. Liam Neeson is on the screen for so little time it is hard to say much about his role other than to say it reminds me of his performance in North Ireland historical film “Michael Collins” (complete with Irish accent). Beyond the big names there is really not much left with the other cast members pretty expendable (and often expended).

Violent, depressing and, dare I say it, boring. Sure, I can see why some may love it with it's amazing cast, interesting visuals, copious visceral violence, swearing, and nudity but I found it incredibly dark with unlikable characters.

Rating: “A slight glimmer of hope, but mostly awful”

Review Date: 2022-07-24

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Studio: Miramax

Year: 2002

Length: 167 minutes

Genre: Action/Adventure

Other reviewed films by Martin Scorsese: