Movie review

Gangs Of New York
Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel
Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz

Director : Martin Scorsese

Gangs Of New YorkI guess that Gangs Of New York qualifies as a historical drama, but Martin Scorsese's tortured masterpiece is like no historical drama I've ever seen.
    Set in 1860's New York, and focusing intitially on the racial and territorial conflicts between the eponymous gangs of Manhattan's Five Points, Gangs Of New York, proceeds to distort historical fact and capitalise on stereotypes to create a city that positively vibrates with energy and corruption. It's been a controversial policy, but to my knowledge, Scorsese has never claimed that Gangs Of New York was to be anything other than a work of fiction. Fiction is what it is, but fiction doesn't get much better than this.

Gangs Of New York starts with a bloody battle between William 'Bill The Butcher' Cutting's Native Americans and Priest Vallon's Irish immigrant Dead Rabbits. Daniel Day-Lewis verses Liam Neeson. The sets are literally breathtaking, and the cinematography shares the same dark vibrancy of Enemy At The Gates. No drab fatigues here though, as the protagonists' outlandish costumes and even more outlandish moustaches fall somewhere between The Warriors and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Bizarre, brutal and totally engaging. After the loss of the battle, and the loss of his father, the young Amsterdam Vallon escapes the carnage of the Five Points, only to return 15 years later seeking revenge.
    What could have been easily been a simplistic revenge plot gets derailed as DiCaprio's Amsterdam slowly begins to understand The Butcher's motivations, and his respect for the man he murdered all those years before. Amsterdam's double life as both Cutting's lieutenant and his potential killer is engaging, but Daniel Day-Lewis' Bill The Butcher is the real star of the show. A volatile psychopath of the same lineage as De Niro's Travis Bickle and Max Cady, The Butcher is a total wild-card who will keep you guessing right until the end.

As Cutting and Vallon focus on their own self-destructive paths, their dispute is upstaged by the political manoeuverings of Jim Broadbent's William 'Boss' Tweed and the encroaching Civil War draft. As such, Scorsese tackles racism, politics, civil unrest and a variety of ethical dilemmas. Objectively, Gangs Of New York probably does have a little too much to say, and despite its excessive length, doesn't manage to get quite all of its messages across clearly.
    Despite this minor niggle, Gangs Of New York really is a very special film. The stunning sets and costumes were just the start. Leonardo DiCaprio really shines, Cameron Diaz makes me really care about the livelihood of pick-pocket and love interest Jenny Everdeane, and Daniel Day-Lewis is a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar . . . probably one of many that Gangs Of New York will deservedly scoop up. Without a doubt, 2003's first must-see movie.

:: Rowan Shaeffer

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