Gangs Of New York


Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by:Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson
Released: February 13, 2003
Grade: A-

As the public, we’ve waited over a year, but for director Martin Scorsese, the wait has been over two decades.  The film was shot two years ago and was slated for a Christmas 2001 release to secure its best chance at Oscar glory.  The film did not male the release date.  This sparked a huge media frenzy as to why.  There were rumours the film was way too long and a war had developed between Scorsese and the studio over what was to be cut.  There were rumours the film was pulled as it would be too difficult for the public to deal with in the aftermath of September 11. There were rumours Scorsese was being a perfectionist and with a blown budget, was taking much longer than expected to put it together.  Who really cares what was the truth.  What I do know, is that the final product is worth recommending and 10 Oscar nominations is validation.

Set in New York 1863, Gangs looks at the birth of what is now one of the world’s great cities.  In a time when the American Civil War as in full swing, there was a quest for power in New York.  Politician William Tweed (Broadbent) was trying to rally support for his election and thanks was relying the town’s true leader, William Cutting (Day-Lewis), to get the votes.  Cutting, a butcher by trade, had financial control of the town with his gang.  As he says “everybody owes, everybody pays”.

Getting on in years, Cutting has taken on an “apprentice” to shape in his mould.  He was impressed with the mannerisms of Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) and soon enough, the two have become an entity that all in New York have grown to respect and fear.  What Cutting doesn’t know is that Amsterdam has no desire to follow in his master’s footsteps.  Sixteen years previous, his father (played by Liam Neeson), was slain by Cutting in a bloody battle and Amsterdam is seeking revenge.  With the anniversary of his father’s death imminent, Amsterdam plans on removing Cutting from power and reclaiming the streets in honour of his father’s legacy.

It’s a very deep, complicated screenplay (perhaps too much so at times) and it’s important to focus during the entire 166 minutes.  The film begins tentatively, but you soon understand that it’s building, building, building to a grand finale where all will be decided.  Scorsese uses modern directorial techniques (such as fast-moving cameras and a bold violin score) to tell this story but isn’t one to rely on visual effects.  An enormous set (2 miles long) was constructed and it itself, becomes part of the story.  It couldn’t look more real.

Daniel Day-Lewis has been in retirement since his last film in 1997, The Boxer, but was coaxed out by Scorsese for one last chance to work with this master.  He delivers the best performance of the year and steals all the limelight from Diaz and DiCaprio, who are both great in their own right.  The supporting cast in intently strong with last year’s Oscar winner, Jim Broadbent, the classy John C. Reilly, and the remerging Henry Thomas.  There’s not a bad performance amongst them.

After wanting to first make it 20 years ago, Scorsese has finally found the resources (with the help of Miramax Studios) to pull it off.  A film true to his heart and you can see the passion come through on screen through the cast and crew.  This is a Martin Scorsese film.