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182 out of 248 people found the following review useful:

He actually did it!

Author: Rosacrux (ubik01@yahoo.com) from Athens, Greece
12 February 2003

You'd think Scorcese has bitten a bit more than he could possibly chew, this time. Well, he didn't. Gangs of new York is not an "epic masterpiece" and it ain't that because I seriously doubt the directors aim was that. It's a great movie in it's own account, but you have to watch it in the right way.

The plot: Tight enough and well paced, with a couple of lows (expected for a three-hour film) but generally it comes out pretty neat. Some may find it disturbing, as it contains extreme violence and it does not portray an America of happy workers, even happier slaves, benevolent rich and just authorities - instead, it portraits the true 1860 society. Definitely not for those who like their films with plenty of sugar on the top.

The epic and the drama: Well, basically the film is the story of two men. Around them things evolve and a brave new world comes forth - but we only get to watch snapshots of that world. Until the last sequence, that is when the whole city "explodes" (in some occasions literally...) and the streets are being covered in blood, and the two aspects (the main story and the events of the era) are being tied together in the same continuum.

At the same time, the director attempts to portrait the whole birth and growth of the United States, in a kind of parabole, but without loosing his focus on the main story and the surrounding. Scorsese dives deeply into the psychology of his heroes, without giving out any explanation of their acts other than the probable - he lets us figure it out ourselves, and that's a God-given gift.

The visuals: The film is disturbing, as it contains extreme violence. There are literally streams of blood, hacking, slashing, crushing - even some action movie fans (hey dude, look, he smashed his head with that thing... cool, man!") might find some parts of the film interesting. The last sequence is visually astounding, and it's by it's own account a reason to watch this film over and over again... if you got the stomach to actually cope with the disturbing images, that is.

The actors: I didn't think it would come a day when I'd say that Leo Di Caprio can act, but ...here I go: The kid can act. And quite good too. Guess he needed a Scorsese to put him in the right path. Same with Cameron Diaz - she has got some potential, seems so. Too bad she wastes it in films like "the sweetest thing" and other throw-ups like that. And... Daniel Day Lewis. Truly, with this performance, they should give him the Academy award. He portrays the vile "Butcher" in a way few would be able of, and he adds depth to a character that could very easily end up "two-dimensional". He is stunningly good.

New York, New York: Scorsese gets involved in something that compares to his previous work the way a fancy little sports car compares to a huge truck: A grandioso film of epic proportions and of great ambition. He does deliver, I believe. But this film shall not be acknowledged universally, because there is too much violence, corruption, lack of the good old white vs black (good vs evil, I mean) concept and does not sweeten the pill in any way. It's disturbing and raw, and it's a great. It's not a political film - in such, the director usually picks a stance, a "true" hero, an opposing view, and builds upon those. In this case, the director is truly endistancemented and keeps that distance, even from his "hero". There are no "good" people in that movie, all are acting like chess pieces in a predetermined way, but at the same time they try to burst out and do their own.

The verdict: A fabulous film, which is going to be recognized for such in some years

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151 out of 198 people found the following review useful:

Terrific Entertainment!

Author: slimjack (gilbertfolio@gmail.com) from Elmira, NY
30 January 2003

Gangs of New York is just perfect entertainment. It is an enthralling, bloody, melodramatic epic that more than justifies its two and one half hour running time. In Gangs director Martin Scorsese spins another tale of the New York underworld but with a twist. Instead of the mid-twentieth century organized crime milieu of Goodfellas, Scorsese ventures back to the 19th century to show us the origin of the modern street gang.

It's the early 1860s and the notorious Five Points slum is ruled by the savage `Bill the Butcher'. The viciously nationalistic Bill terrorizes all the immigrant masses jammed into his slum but seems to harbor a particular hatred for the Irish population. Into this seething cauldron wanders mysterious young Amsterdam Vallon who soon works his way into the trust and affection of Bloody Bill. Amsterdam, however, has a past with the unsuspecting Butcher and sports an agenda not unlike a certain Prince of Denmark. Bloody vengeance and dark betrayal soon come to pass, all played against a backdrop of corruption and unrest that lead to up to the horrors of New York Civil War draft riots.

Daniel Day-Lewis is marvelous as Bill the Butcher. His Bill is both recognizably human and a full bore, moustache-twirling villain. Day-Lewis strides his savage and profane way across the screen and steals the whole of the movie. The only other actor to approach Day-Lewis' level is Jim Broadbent as William 'Boss' Tweed. Broadbent is Tweed's spitting image and he makes the grasping old pirate so winning we find ourselves rooting for Tweed against the gaggle of reformers that infest his domain. Though Leonardo DiCaprio is the nominal lead of the picture he is overshadowed by his co-stars. Large, slope shouldered and vaguely brutish looking, DiCaprio is physically perfect for Amsterdam. While he could have used some of the fire and rage of a young James Cagney, DiCaprio's acting is superior throughout the movie. The problem is that Amsterdam just isn't as flashy a role as Bill or Tweed and, as good as DiCaprio is; Day-Lewis operates on a whole other level. Cameron Diaz as the beautiful pickpocket Jenny, never convinces that she is a product of the slums. Despite having considerable screen time, Diaz fades into the background when compared to her more powerful co-stars.

Just as important as the actors are to Gangs is the period atmosphere that drips off the screen. The amazing old New York set has an air of lived in reality that you could cut with a knife. You can almost smell the vermin. Gangs is entirely free of the embalmed feeling you get from most modern period movies. The cast handles the period argot as if it were their true speech and wear their costumes like lived-in clothing. You come away convinced that this is how the world looked and sounded in 1862.

Scorsese does eschew all nuance and subtlety in Gangs. Instead he tells his tale in wide, bold, exploitive and melodramatic strokes that make the movies two and a half hours fly by. Be warned that if you are waiting to see Gangs on DVD you are making a huge mistake. Gangs has to be seen at the theater. The detail and scope of the film cries out to be viewed in all its wide screen glory. This movie is a fantastic achievement.

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95 out of 124 people found the following review useful:

great filmmaking overcomes banal story

Author: Roland E. Zwick (magneteach@aol.com) from United States
26 January 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Finding yourself brooding over the sorry state of civilization lately? If so, I would strongly recommend you take a trip to `Gangs of New York' and see how much worse things USED to be in the not too distant past. The film is Martin Scorcese's epic paean to the Lawlessness That Made America Great, a theme most often explored against a Far West backdrop, out on the open prairie or in two-bit towns like Tombstone, Arizona or Dodge City, Kansas. Here it's been transferred to 1860's New York City, which in Scorcese's vision, turns out to be a veritable Dickensian hellhole of vice and corruption, a place teeming with rival gangsters, pickpockets, corrupt politicians, lawbreaking policemen, and even firefighters so obsessed with matters of jurisdiction that they do physical battle with rival departments while an unattended building goes up in flames behind them. This is a world where life has no value and where a man's existence can be snuffed out without so much as a by-your-leave or a single person left behind to mourn him. The members of these rival gangs make the Sharks and the Jets - who would make their appearance on the same turf a full century later - look like mere pantywaists in comparison.

Visually, the film is a masterpiece, offering some of the best cinematography, art direction and costume design of any film released in 2002. With the help of some master craftsmen, Scorcese has created a complete world unto itself, one that doesn't look quite like anything we have ever seen on film before. The setting provides a stunning mixture of the real and the surreal, with everything from the clapboard buildings to the foot-tall hats deriving their style from extrapolated exaggeration. It is truly an astonishing, eye-popping achievement.

The same cannot necessarily be said for the rest of the film, however. Based on a story by former film critic Jay Cocks, the screenplay by Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan and Cocks himself never quite achieves the level of greatness promised by the setting. The main drawback is the story itself, which is basically just a trite revenge melodrama all gussied up in fancy period clothes. Leonardo DiCaprio takes center stage as Amsterdam Vallon, a young man who, as a boy, witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of Bill `the Butcher' Cutting, the meanest man ever to terrorize the streets of this fledgling metropolis. Bill, who is an expert with knives and other cutting instruments, is the man all the denizens of the section of the city known as The Five Fingers fear, and he is able to use that fear to make himself undisputed king of the area. After a 16-year absence, Amsterdam returns to the scene of the crime, determined to even the score and make Bill pay for his offense with his life.

Despite the glories of the setting, Scorcese is never able to bring the story itself to life. Perhaps DiCaprio is just too weak and passive to make a very convincing foil for the hard-as-steel Bill Cutting (who seems heavily derived from Dickens' Bill Sikes character in `Oliver Twist,' a literary source that never seems too far from the minds of the movie's authors). Perhaps Daniel-Day Lewis is just too convincing in the role of villain to make it seem like anything even close to an even match. Perhaps, too, the obligatory romantic plot strand involving DiCaprio with a miscast Cameron Diaz is simply too hokey to fit into the grim tale being told here. Whatever the reason, the core of the film turns out to be the weakest element of `Gangs of New York.' Moreover, the dialogue is utterly banal and uninspired, consisting mainly of syrupy platitudes and half-baked philosophizing. Lucky for us, then, that the director has provided us with enough visual stimulation to keep us at least intrigued, if not quite fascinated, throughout.

What does fascinate us, however, is all the historical detail that permeates the outer fringes of the story. These include the ever-present backdrop of the Civil War, which keeps encroaching into the world these people inhabit, and the anti-war riots that tore virtually all of New York City apart - both of which the filmmakers use as a kind of macrocosmic comment on the petty battles and rivalries taking place in this hellish part of town. In moments like these, `Gangs of New York' almost touches greatness. Also of interest is the way in which the film highlights the fervid anti-immigration attitude that has so completely permeated the history of a country that, in a bewildering paradox, has always prided itself (in theory, at least, if not always in practice) on being the great `melting pot' for the world's downtrodden and disenfranchised to flock to - and the film reminds us of how prevalent that anti-immigrant attitude still is today in many quarters. Truly, some things never change.

In some ways, this film might make an interesting companion piece to Scorcese's `Casino,' in that both films deal with the theme of lawlessness and corruption making way for legal conformity and respectability. Each of these works, so distant from one another in time and place, manages to portray the kind of epic birth pangs that cities and countries often have to go through before they can call themselves truly `civilized.' This theme is, undoubtedly, what led Scorcese to compose a kind of visual ode to New York City in his closing shot, his own personal valentine to a city that has suffered so much in the past few years. It is his way of saying that, from such squalid beginnings, New York City has grown into the great cultural center that it is today and that it can be proud of its heritage and the people who helped make it. After the events of 9/11, that is a very powerful and stirring sentiment indeed.

Yes, `Gangs of New York' is a severely flawed film in a lot of ways, but it is also a work of vision and of almost unparalleled technical accomplishment that deserves to be seen. Even if there is not much here to engage the mind or the heart, you can always feast your eyes on the glorious visions unfolding up there on the screen.

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169 out of 277 people found the following review useful:

Suppressed History Finally Surfaces

6/10
Author: RHKLWK
2 July 2003

I am a Civil War "buff," so I wanted to see this movie the moment I heard it was being made. Yes, the New York Draft Riots did happen, just two weeks AFTER the Northern victory at Gettysburg, demonstrating that the outcome of the War was anything but certain, even after Lee had been forced to retreat to the south bank of the Potomac River. Today, many would find this surprising.

The movie did take some license, however. There was no wholesale firing on civilians by Union soldiers. In fact, reported deaths after three days of rioting were less than one-hundred. Many of the dead were randomly selected blacks, who were hanged and mutilated (which was accurately depicted in the film). Today, many would also find this surprising, because the schools teach that the North was good, and the South was bad. The truth is that blacks were subjected to inhumane treatment everywhere, especially in the Nothern cities.

There was also no firing by offshore naval vessels. That was artistic license. (My source for all of the above is a doctoral dissertation that was published about ten years ago titled "The New York City Draft Riots.")

The movie makes the important point that the North had run out of "home grown" manpower to fight the South. Had it not been for Irish and German volunteers through 1863, and black volunteers in 1864, the North would have sued for peace. The 1864 Democratic Platform promised to bring the War to a swift and speedy conclusion.

Bravo to Scorsese for bringing all of this to light. In the meantime, the movie is about twenty minutes to long. The brothel scenes, the "uptown" scenes, and some of the scenes in the catacombs struck me as slow and superfluous. On the other hand, the street scenes and the scenes of the random gangs (of which I wish there were more) were glorious.

One thing Scorsese left out, however: The mountains of animal and human waste in the streets! Not long after his movie was released, the History Channel produced a documentary on the Five Points area, and it is staggering to consider the tons and tons of animal and human waste piling up in the streets, and the thousands of gallons of urine running in the gutters. There were old photos of waste in the streets stacked six feet high. Needless to say, infant mortality in such a fetid environment was about 50%. Scorsese leaves this out, and there is scarcely a horse in the movie.

Day-Lewis does a superb job with a character that is unevenly developed. He is a homicidal thug in the beginning, a menacing, but somewhat benign, presence in the middle, and a psychotic killer in the end. It isn't really clear why he vacillates the way he does. Bi-polar, I guess. DiCaprio proves he can act, and he exudes a manliness he did not possess in earlier films. Diaz turns in a creditable performance. The cast of thousands adds a nice touch to the film.

I would never say this is a "great" film, but it certainly is worth a look. Kudos to Scorsese for the herculean effort, and a tip of the kepi for the poetic ending, which reminded me of the ending in 1936's "San Francisco."

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97 out of 134 people found the following review useful:

The Blood Stays on the Knife

8/10
Author: El_Guapo9 from La Crosse, Wisconsin
2 August 2004

"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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74 out of 102 people found the following review useful:

A Great Movie, Worth The Wait

8/10
Author: Anna (anna2@sympatico.ca) from Toronto, Canada
27 December 2002

For about three months now, I have (on an almost daily basis) passed a movie theatre not far from my home. On the side of this movie theatre is a huge poster advertising the movie "Gangs of New York". Meanwhile, all I heard about on television was the buzz about the upcoming "Gangs of New York". So, when this highly publicized movie finally opened, I went and saw it.

I went to the theatre, I bought my ticket, I found a seat in a very crowded theatre and I sat. For three hours I sat in that dark theatre and I watched what was one of the most amazing movies I have ever had privilege to see.

It is hard to even begin to explain why this movie was amazing, but it was. The way it was shot is brilliant. The cinematography is spectacular. The story is completely enthralling.

Although the movie was just shy of three hours long, it was not at all boring to watch. The story was captivating and although I knew how it was going to end (because, after all, it is a movie based on a true-ish story), it was incredible to watch how it got that end.

Above all, the movie was beautiful to watch. I have to admit to those who have not yet seen it that "Gangs" is quite violent. However, the violence was well shot and it was fairly necessary to the story.

All of the actors put in extremely good performances. Leonardo DiCaprio really proved that he's not just a pretty face and that he does actually have a great deal of talent (which can also be seen in his other movie of the season, "Catch Me If You Can"). Cameron Diaz' performace also proves that she can do much more than the standard romantic comedy. Also, after hearing reports of Daniel Day Lewis' REALLY getting into his character, I admit that it was completely worth it. His character (William Cutting/Bill the Butcher) is so complex and although you know you hate him, you can't decide why (for there are so many reasons).

In conclusion, if you have not seen this movie yet, go. Go now. See it. This is one of the epic movies of our time. I heard that Scorcese has been conceptualizing this movie for over twenty years; I could tell. The story this movie tells is one that I had never heard and the way in which it was told makes it seem very important for us to know. The message that is conveyed, although not an entirely wholesome one, is an important one to learn and, if considered, is very relevant to our time. However, my only message to you is this: see this movie.

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78 out of 122 people found the following review useful:

The narrative and characters are weak but the general sweep and spectacle of the whole thing makes it worth a look

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
25 February 2006

In the 1840's New York is a mess of gangs all fighting over small areas of turf. The main rivalry is between the immigrant Irish and those who see themselves as Natives of their New York. A battle rages between them and the leader of the Irish (Priest Vallon) falls to the blade of Bill "The Butcher" Cutting – witnessed by Vallon's young son. Sixteen years later and things are different but no better. Cutting is now the head of the Five Corners and all the gangs answer to him. It is into this situation that an unknown man called Amsterdam returns – none other than the grown son of Priest Vallon. Seeking a fitting revenge for the death of his father, Amsterdam makes sure he catches Cutting's sole eye and gradually is taken into his trust.

Despite lukewarm reviews I decided that any Scorsese film is worth a look and gave GoNY a night of my time. In terms of plotting the film is essentially a revenge drama that sees Vallon trying to get close enough to Cutting to take him out in a fashion befitting the man. You might rightly point out that such a straightforward tale does not require 180 minutes to tell but it does when the film tries to make this much more of a sprawling affair that aims to bridge the cinematic gap between the western and the gangster films while also painting a rich tapestry of characters against a rich background of 19th Century New York. However it fails to do this on several levels and the end result is a film that feels a lot baggier than it really should have done. This is best seen in the characters because none of them really develop beyond the first impressions they give, or a better example is the failure of the film to use Jenny in the critical way that she was clearly intended to be used.

Scorsese may lose his way with the story but it is easy to forgive him because he does so well with the majestic historical sweep he gives to everything else. The sets look great, the costumes look great and the dramatic flair he gives in delivery add so much. It is a real problem that he has not taken the characters and story along for the ride but I found his silver lining to be enjoyable even if his rather OTT approach did further take away from the realism of the people and the story. His approach is matched by the cast, who are mostly enjoyable despite lacking depth. DiCaprio is more than the bland pinup I had feared he would be but he can't do much more than play the "silent revenge" card from start to finish. He is overwhelmed by Day-Lewis who has great fun in a fantastically OTT role that worked much better than I expected him to. Diaz is not that good and I felt she was miscast in an attempt to get "credibility" by working with Scorsese. The support cast is roundly good and features solid turns from Neeson, Reilly, Gleeson and many others fill out a strong cast.

Overall this is an impressive film in terms of sweep and style but not in terms of story and characters – which is a bit of a problem in a film that pretty much lasts three hours. The skill of Scorsese and the presence of so many stars make it worth a look but it is hard to get past the problems in the way that the story is not as well done as it could have been, even if the general historical sweep and spectacle makes it worth taking a look at.

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73 out of 113 people found the following review useful:

Daniel Day-Lewis: Spectacular Performance

8/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
17 November 2005

Daniel Day-Lewis elevates this film from just "good" to "very good" or even "excellent." He is absolutely riveting, one of the most interesting "villains" I have ever seen on film. I am sorry Day-Lewis didn't win the Academy Award for his performance. He was just outstanding to watch. His facial expressions alone cracked me up!

Day-Lewis played "Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting" he is one nasty dude. However, there are no real "good guys" in this story. The supposed hero, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a revenge-seeking man with a ton of flaws himself. The rest of the characters are either thieves, gang members, corrupt politicians or corrupt policeman. Ah yes, another family-oriented film from that kindly director Martin Scorcese.

What Scorcese lacks in family values, he comes close to making up for in style. This is another fascinating visual film with great sets, costumes, color and camera-work. Other typical Scorcese touches are in here: Catholic-bashing and brutal language. (I question whether the f-word was used back in the days this film takes place.)

All in all, a tough film that could be too unpleasant to watch but for Lewis' outstanding performance and the spectacular visuals.

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82 out of 141 people found the following review useful:

Don't waste your dough

1/10
Author: (uur@earthlink.net) from San Francisco, CA
8 January 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Whatever you do, do not waste your dough on this trash. They say it's directed by Martin Scorsese, but it was obviously directed by Kevin Costner. Think *WaterWorld* without the pleasant diversion of being able to look at the ocean. Not only is it pointlessly violent (and I'm a guy who doesn't at all mind the occasional decapitation or disemboweling as someone is telling me a story), but my god is this moving BORING!

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Bill Sykes-send up with a truly laughable makeup job and an accent that's as carefree as the wind. You never really know why he hates Irish immigrants so much (a mere generation away from being an immigrant himself), and you never understand why everyone in The Five Points slum is so loyal toward and protective of him when he does absolutely nothing to alleviate the poverty and squalor of their senseless, miserable lives. (Oh yeah, since his legitimate front is as a butcher, he occasionally throws a decent steak their way.) Don't get me started on Cameron Diaz, The Whore With The Heart of Gold (because THAT's a story that hasn't been told enough) who, inexplicably is the only character in the movie with clean teeth. Liam Neeson, who croaks before the end of the first reel, is one lucky bastard.

After the first 20 minutes, of course, anyone not watching the movie in Braille understands perfectly what the one and only dramatic issue is going to be (REVENGE!!) and you can step out for Chinese while the movie drags its ass toward its inevitable and tedious conclusion. Granted, *Gangs* might have made some use of the obvious Shakespearean themes, but Scorsese doesn't even try to handle them. Thus, though you might entertain a flicker of interest in the Hamletesque question of whether the son will avenge the father, you wind up so bored w/DiCaprio that you don't freakin' care anymore by the time he gets around to doing the deed (which is rather done for him before he even bothers to show up).

In fact, though Leonardo keeps staring out at you from that bland little face and trying to convince you that he's struggling with Complex Moral Issues, the fact is: Every single person in this movie is reprehensible and evil, with differences in degree but never in kind. And if there are no good guys, why are you supposed to be cheering at the climactic scene when (for about the 11th time) the streets yet again run gooey w/blood and body parts?

And yet, Scorsese tries. Toward the end of the movie, he picks up the nearest blunt instrument and bashes away at the plot until he's grafted an obvious hero (DiCaprio) and an irrelevant hetero love story (DiCaprio and Diaz) onto it. In other words, Martin Scorsese has nothing but contempt for you. You're too stupid to realize that DiCaprio's character is a venal, murderous little crook and you'll be mollified by a pretty romance between him and a sociopathic pickpocket prostitute. Because the history of America began between the sheets.

This is the movie you'd get if Oliver Stone and Hannibal Lecter collaborated on an American history epic, and it's about as cynical a piece of trash as I hope never again to see.

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59 out of 98 people found the following review useful:

Intense, disturbing and powerful

10/10
Author: Warren Murphy (murphy_wmm) from Fort McMurray, AB, Canada
4 January 2003

Well, I just got back from seeing "Gangs of New York" at the theater, and I have many positive things to say about this film. It's easily the most powerful film I've seen this year, even topping the excellent "White Oleander". I have never seen a film portray poverty in the 1800's as well as this film did. It also made me feel like I was there, witnessing the poverty and brutality. It's a film that makes us be thankful that times like those have passed, and for us not to forget those who lived and died during those times. It's also a film that's not afraid to show war in its total uglyness. Martin Scorsese definately got his point across with this film, but he didn't do it alone. The cast were all excellent in their parts, no bad acting here at all. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz showed they are more than just pretty faces. Daniel Day-Lewis was magnificent as "The Butcher", a character whom you want to both love and hate. Quite simply the best film I've seen all year, and I hope it will get nominated (and win) many Oscars. Even if it doesn't, it's a true winner in my eyes. Nice to see that Hollywood can actually do something useful with a $100million budget for once. This was playing at the theater the same time as "The Two Towers"... unfortunately, most of the people in the long line-up went to see "TTT"... they sure missed out, since GONY has more to say in the first 10 minutes than LOTR has to say over 3 hours. Although this film is rather long (2 hrs 47 mins), I was so provoked by it that the time flew by. "Gangs of New York".... A film that's not to be missed!!

10/10 - Higly reccomended!

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