Twenty-something Richard travels to Thailand and finds himself in possession of a strange map. Rumours state that it leads to a solitary beach paradise, a tropical bliss - excited and intrigued, he sets out to find it.
Having seen his father killed in a major gang fight in New York, young Amsterdam Vallon is spirited away for his own safety. Some years later, he returns to the scene of his father's death, the notorious Five Points district in New York. It's 1863 and lower Manhattan is run by gangs, the most powerful of which is the Natives, headed by Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. He believes that America should belong to native-born Americans and opposes the waves of immigrants, mostly Irish, entering the city. It's also the time of the Civil War and forced conscription leads to the worst riots in US history. Amid the violence and corruption, young Vallon tries to establish himself in the area and also seek revenge over his father's death. Written by
"Gangs of New York" takes us back to a time when America was a young country and New York was divided. Those who felt they were "native" Americans did not want immigrants to enter their great country, spawning hatred between groups all over the city where many of them landed. In the story we see how much of the town is run by one man, with William Cutting ("Bill the Butcher," played marvelously by Daniel Day-Lewis) being the most feared and well-respected man of the "five Points."
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Amsterdam Vallon, who as a boy watched Bill the Butcher kill his father in one of the Points' great battles. Now a grown man, he returns to the Points to find Bill pretty much running the show. He gets on Bill's good side and eventually becomes his number one man, all the while still plotting for his father's revenge.
While there is a lot of gratuitous violence and gore, the film does an excellent job portraying life as it was in New York. You can be sucked in to the time of the movie, and even though the setting is much before our time you don't need a textbook to understand how things were run and what life was like.
I've never been a big DiCaprio fan, but his effort here (along with his performance from "Catch Me If You Can") have made my opinion start to waver a little. He is good as Amsterdam, and believable in his actions and expressions. Daniel Day-Lewis is simply phenomenal as Bill the Butcher and really should have won the Best Actor Oscar. Overall, I feel this was the best film of 2002 and really was robbed at the Academy Awards.
8 out of 10.
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