There is a lot of good to be seen in this movie. The sets, accents, costumes and scenery are universally breathtaking. The division between CGI and real sets is seamless. The golden globe winning music is a perfect companion to this film. The story is a seldom-told and well thought out piece of a long-passed zeitgeist that weaves a tapestry of many, many colors into what is almost anything but a melting pot! Civil War-era New York is a cauldron of gang and boss controlled graft and corruption paving the streets with blood. This film is also not afraid to delve deeply into spirituality and a depiction of the religious differences that equalled the racism of the day. While the screenplay by Jay Cocks (that's his real name), Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan is well written and rich in good dialogue, the plot is a standard, stock Hollywood loaner. The expressiveness of this film hangs on the Stock-Plot like a fine suit on a cheap mannequin, but that suit has a fine back story to tell!
Is Gangs of New York perfect? Well, no. For one thing the film editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is a little ham-handed. I could count the seamless cuts in this movie on one hand. Further, small irritants like Cameron Diaz' oft-changing hair color is quite disconcerting. Look, she's beautiful and all, but her hair color is all over the map! Did Miss Clairol live in New York in the late 19th century? The acting is usually pretty darned good, especially surrounding Bill the Butcher played by Daniel Day-Lewis (seeming nothing like Daniel Day-Lewis). Unfortunately even his acting gets a little over the top sometimes. Leonardo DiCaprio was ridiculous in Titanic and is marginally better here. Still he sounds much less like an Irishman than he does like an overrated punk kid actor. Still, he has improved so much that one almost forgets he's "Leo."
This film's worst crime is that the plot has been done before. A parent is murdered by a crime boss. The son, now grown, infiltrates the crime boss' family and is assimilated to the point that his actions are indistinguishable from that of the bad guys. Once exposed he must take revenge in a massive final battle! The crime boss feels wronged by this deception and must take his own sick revenge. I had to double check the movie poster to make sure I wasn't watching Gangs of New Jack City! Still, to be fair, there is so much more than the main plot here, and said main-plot is much better handled than in most films. That which surrounds the frame is a great path deep with subplots, intelligence and interest.
This is a very violent film with lovely nudity and more F-Bombs than a Sex Pistols album. It's definitely not for the kids. Miramax was wise to wait a year to release this film due to the events of September 11th 2001. The sight of a violent and smoke-engulfed New York with crumbling buildings and dying Americans is very hard to take for any era. Scorsese has a history of violent films, but here there is very little violence that isn't vital to the plot. There is a lot of blood, and some gratuitous and unneeded, however, the vast majority of the violent scenes are complementary to the plot and historically accurate. Scorsese never lets one forget that violence is a horror! He pulls no punches in his accurate display of the factional and frightening time and treats the plight of the Irish, the Blacks and all of the downtrodden with both sympathy and brutal honesty. It's serious, sad, frightening and very hard to watch.
It's also an honest and beautiful movie which has earned its Four Stars out of Five! It might have been a five star movie with more originality, less over-the-top acting and better editing. Scorsese deserved his Golden Globe for best directing, and shows once again why he is the ultimate inside-outsider. Not only does this movie add more dimensions to Day-Lewis' acting, not only does this movie make me like DiCaprio more, but its cameo appearances (including Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson and John C. Reilly) have no equal. While they were at it... where the eff you see kay is Colm Fucking Meaney? Where? With Rick Jones?
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