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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

John Jakes On Acid

Author: Bill Slocum ( from Greenwich, CT United States
17 December 2005

"Gangs Of New York" feels as much of a labor to watch as it was to make, and considering the fact we are being paid considerably less for our part than director Martin Scorsese was for his, that's a problem.

There's the potential for something good here, a fictional take on life in the hard streets of Manhattan during the Civil War, but the film never delivers. Instead, it serves up bloody chunks of exposition and characters with lines that are meant to sound profound but come off clumsy. "The blood stays on the blade," a young boy's father explains in the opening moments, after he cuts himself shaving and the boy starts to wipe the razor clean. Why? Is he so sentimental about shaving cuts? Does he not know a bloody razor will rust much faster and become useless, even dangerous, for shaving over time?

When the boy grows into a man, he becomes Leonardo DiCaprio, who seems to have undergone a physical metamorphosis from the sallow-cheeked lad of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" to bloated rodent-man of Arch Hall Jr. proportions. I never understood the mania for DiCaprio, either pro or con. He's a serviceable actor who gets a lot of big parts though the consensus seems to agree he was better when younger. Here, his post-pubescent woodenness is evident as his Amsterdam Vallon character is forced to double as clunky narrator ("New York loved William Tweed... and hated him, but for those of us trying to be thieves, we couldn't help but admire him.") and put through his paces too quickly for air.

What air there is is sucked up by Daniel Day-Lewis's overripe performance as Bill Cutting, the greasy-haired nativist butcher with the Snidely Whiplash 'stache. Day-Lewis definitely gives off a lot of energy, but he's also all over the place, the most out-of-control performer in a Scorsese film including Richard Manuel in "The Last Waltz." One minute he's denouncing the Irish with a zealous scorn, the next he's taking young Amsterdam into his embrace. For a guy who hates the Irish so much, Bill sure spends a lot of time with them.

Cameron Diaz fights with DiCaprio in delivering the least convincing Irish accent, really lost at sea though I blame Scorsese and the screenwriters more than her. Too many other minor characters are used too obviously as plot devices, explaining how things are as a way of moving a bloated story along. The film bites off way more than it can or should chew, wanting to show not only the nasty environs of Five Points but the machinations of Tammany Hall and assorted figures of the day. Boss Tweed is wedged into the storyline very roughly, as is Horace Greeley and P.T. Barnum.

I was reminded in the end of John Jakes and the historical fiction he was popular for when I was growing up. Young man arriving in a strange American city, meeting famous people from history books while making friends and enemies of uncommon intensity. Simpler fare for a simpler time, yes, but there was something entertaining in the way it was done. Here, one gets a lot of blood and violence, some sex, sketchy attempts at humor, much emoting, and absolutely zero fun.

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14 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

A selfish indulgence I can't escape

Author: ragingbull1980 from United States
22 February 2005

Gangs of New York is a flawed picture, but oh what a masterfully entertaining flawed picture. Buoyed by the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, and quite possibly one of the greatest villains ever to appear on screen, the movie is a wonderfully detailed, semi-fictional account of New York in the 1860's--when the country was a political hotbed and the people were as ruthlessly dug in and divided as... well, today.

DiCaprio is good, and maybe great even. But how would we know? The picture belongs to the Butcher--perhaps DiCaprio's ability to allow the villain to shine as he is and not attempt to steal the spotlight is a credit to the young actor. After all, he's not really the main character--rather, he's the pair of eyes through which we see this complex war-torn, urban society. The main character is Bill Cutting, whose moral, political, and xenophobic complexities mirror the contradictions in all Americans, particularly of that period--though such contradictions have been the subject of American historical fiction for two and a half centuries.

Scorsese makes this picture the way it should be made, with caution to the wind and a heart bursting with vivid imagination that can be seen in every nook and cranny of the massive Five Points neighborhood on screen. He indulges in every turn to fill the film with multiple thematic elements, running at once both concurrent and in contradiction to one another. This creates a film that many people are uncomfortable with because let's face it: with all this going on, where's the plot? I think the plot, fragile as it is, only exists to deliver this world and its characters for us to observe, consume, and relish in. I certainly do. For all of its mistakes, it is a film I continue to watch over and over again, with a fascination I reserve perhaps for only three or four other films I have ever seen.

I love this movie, God help me.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

One of my favorite Scorsese films.Daniel Day Lewis gives it momentum.

Author: Christian_Dimartino from United States
20 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It had been years since mob film director had done a film. The film he came back for,Gangs of New York, was nominated for 10 Oscars including best film and best supporting actor.It won 0.And it got mixed reviews with critics.

My favorite Scorsese picture,Casino,was his most underrated.Then Gangs of New York would come after that. Gangs of New York,like Casino,is very,very entertaining and interesting. I loved this movie. It's pretty awesome. It's very original,and it's not really like anything Scorsese has done before.

This is a great film.Not my favorite of that year,not my favorite Scorsese film(though one of them),but a great movie.There is a lot to admire.Even the scenery and the music played. But for me:what really made this movie what it was?

For me,the best thing about Gangs of New York is the performance by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis.Daniel Day Lewis is really terrific in anything he's in. To me he gives one of his best performances here.Though my favorite performance from him is Daniel Plainview,his work as the villainous Bill "The Butcher" is astonishing.

Leonardo DiCaprio starts off the DiCaprio/Scorsese lucky streak as Amsterdam Vallon,a young man who has been incarcerated for years. Amsterdam arrives in New York to avenge the death of his father(Liam Neeson)who was slaughtered in battle by Bill "The Butcher"(Daniel Day-Lewis).

When he first meets him,he doesn't murder him.He actually starts working for him and they share a bond together. Along the way,he meets people from his past and a woman who steals from men's pockets(played well by Cameron Diaz),who also has something in common with Bill.

Gangs of New York feels like an eternity. It's very long. But it's awesome. I think it's Scorsese's most original film. Not his best but I think it's one of them. It's terrific. There is a lot to admire. But the thing that makes it so great is Daniel Day Lewis who is electrifying in every scene.Though he lost the Oscar to Chris Cooper for Adaptation,my favorite film of that year, Lewis is amazing. He gives both There will be blood(a better film)and Gangs of New York the credit they received.

Gangs of New York:A+

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

An unforgettable experience!

Author: Shanetmims from United States
20 August 2011

Ever seen a film that captured all you loved and hated about not only America(for those of of you who are American),but the world,as well? A film that made you so angry,but yet left you in tears due to its compelling story,characters,and visuals?

For me,Gangs of New York is that film.

I LOVE this movie! From its heartbreaking opening,to its truly melancholy ending,this film leaves with so many mixed emotions that just further support the emotional weight of this film.If by the final scene,you don't either feel a positive or negative emotion to what you saw and the effects it had on not only the characters,but America in general,then I question your humanity.

Now,I am not a patriotic person.I find,as a country,America is very hypocritical,and it makes me sick,but I still care for my fellow man,and that is becoming more and more rare as time goes on.People just look out for themselves more often nowadays,and you just want to scream at them for their self-centered behavior.

Gangs of New York is set in 1863,when gangs ran the streets of New York,and the government couldn't (or would not,whatever you prefer) gain control of the city that would one day be one of the greatest cities of the world.The story deals with the character of Amsterdam Vallon(Leonardo DiCaprico),who,when he was young,lost his father(Liam Neeson) to gang leader Bill the Butcher(Daniel Day-Lewis).Amsterdam is put in a reform school,but when he grows up,he plots to avenge his father's murder by getting close to Bill and killing him.

In joining Bill's gang,however,Amsterdam gets to know the man personally.Now,Bill is someone Amsterdam,and we as a viewing audience, should hate without question.But he is the interesting thing:Bill isn't unlikable.Even in all that he has done,and will do(and he does plenty,as this is an almost 3-hour film),Amsterdam finds he actually is starting to respect the man,especially when it concerns Amsterdam's father,who Bill considers as "the only person he ever killed worth remembering."

Sadly,nothing good will come out of this.Bill soon discovers who Amsterdam really is,and he won't take kindly to someone in his gang who has it out for him. And so,Amsterdam and Bill,by the film's climax,will find themselves on opposing sides in what will shape the future of "their great city".

Gangs is a wonderful film,filled with terrific performances,amazing visuals,great direction,a solid screenplay,filled with depth and themes,and,overall,a powerful message:"in the end,how significant are the quarrels of man's past? For in the end,time will fade even legend."

Please see this. You will be shocked and amazed.It reminds me of how I see this country every day,and reminds me of how thankful I am for the people in my life that make life worth having.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Fine acting, spectacle.

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
30 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Man, this doth bestride the world of 1860s New York like a colossus. It begins with a battle on the streets of the (now disappeared) Five Points of New York City, between the Irish immigrants led by Liam Neeson, head of the Dead Rabbits gang, and the nativists, led by Daniel Day-Lewis, sporting the most down-home working-class New York accent you ever heard, a real phoneme-mangler, and the waxiest mustache as well, playing Bill the Butcher.

Neeson is killed in battle, which stops the fight, as it did in ancient times, and Day-Lewis bellows out to the stunned mob, "The Dead Rabbits is gone forever. Let their name never be spoken from this time onward!" Neeson's son grows up to be Leonard DeCaprio and when he returns to Five Points he his taken under the wing of Day-Lewis, until his identity is revealed. Cameron Diaz is around here somewhere, swishing through bar rooms, half-built churches, and underground caves.

Another street battle is arranged. Coincidentally it takes place during the historic draft riots of the Civil War period. Day-Lewis is killed by DeCaprio, and the feud is buried.

I couldn't tell one gang from another but I loved their names. They are rooted in historical reality, I think, and they include not just the Dead Rabbits but the Chichesters, the Bowery Boys, and the Plug Uglies. The Plug Uglies derive their name, I understand, from a "volunteer fireman's group." There were thirty-seven such groups. There being no fire department to speak of at the time, volunteer groups were paid by the fire, which led to the expected results. Not only competition by rival groups to reach the fire first, but sometimes co-opting the fire by having a handful sit on the fire plugs and reserving them for their own group. (Arson by the firemen themselves also generated profits.)

That's the kind of detail that Scorsese jimmies into this movie. We get to see some historical figures, such as Boss Tweed, and we witness their machinations. But the director's real interests lie elsewhere -- intrigues among the gang members and their molls, revenge, murders, public assassinations, things like that. I know. It sounds like the Corleone family. Unfortunately that's probably the weakest part of the film. There is usually a great sense of "place" and "tribe" in Scorsese's work. The Five-Points set is splendidly done but I couldn't get a sense of what was where. Transitions from exteriors to interiors, and the relation of community features to each other, were confusing. And although Day-Lewis's character was nicely delineated, and our attitude towards him necessarily ambivalent, I wasn't itching for DeCaprio to off him and stand victorious over his body -- which is part of the gangs' code. ("Ears and noses are alright, but nobody touches this body!" That's another order from Day-Lewis about taking post-battle trophies. Another guy gets paid by the new notches he carves into his sheleghly or whatever it is.) Nobody in the film is entirely admirable, although just about everyone is treacherous. A black orphanage is burned down during the draft riots but this eludes mention. Also, okay, this is about the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhood in New York City. Day-Lewis is a butcher and Cameron Diaz is a hooker, but what kind of work do the others do? We don't see anyone making a living. We don't even hear them talk about it. To whom does Day-Lewis sell his lamb chops?

None of that detracts from the power of the images we see on the screen, or from some of the superb performances, the least effective of which come from DeCaprio and Diaz. The film paints a moving portrait of near anarchy. We only get to see one or two cops and they're thoroughly corrupt. Nobody balks, no committee is formed to investigate, when a battle between street gangs leaves dozens dead. The street has its own code. Plus ca change.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

"It's a funny feeling being taken under the wings of a dragon – it's warmer than you think."

Author: Flagrant-Baronessa from Sweden
4 September 2006

So narrates Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) standing by the boss Bill the Butcher's side (Daniel Day-Lewis) at the height of his hard-boiled reign over New York City in the mid-1800's. Amsterdam saw the Butcher brutally kill his father in a gang-war when he was just a little boy, and he's sworn revenge ever since. But in order to get his vengeance, he must infiltrate the Butcher's gang, and ends up becoming something of a son to him.

That "Gangs of New York" is such a good film is a mystery because it breaks the fundamental rule of good film-making: you have to care for the central character, and DiCaprio's Amsterdam is an unlikeable young man. He is surly and unkind, walking around in a bubble of hesitation and scattered thoughts of revenge. He moodily snarls at the one woman he likes (Cameron Diaz). It is inconceivable how someone as dynamic, likable and strong as the Butcher would ever take this brat in, but that's film for you.

The above is an unfortunate miss; the lead character has to be strong or else the film will weigh him down. Juxtaposing Dicaprio with Day-Lewis has got to be the worst idea that's ever popped into Scorsese's mind because it is evident within minutes of the film that they are of very different acting fibre and the former will look even WORSE when paired with one of the best working actors in the world today. But these are mere casting flaws (but still harmful), so onto the overall direction:

A friend of mine once said that Martin Scorsese is only capable of half a film before it turns into a mess and that stuck with me when I watched "Gangs of New York", because it was true. This is a relatively straightforward story of revenge but it is diluted by detours in Irish traditions – there's singing, dancing, bareknuckled fighting, drinking and debauchery--for 2 and a half hours. These detours may be well sewn-together by a patient Scorsese narrative flow (I'm thinking "Casino") told by Amsterdam, but is unnecessary to go to such lengths to get the Irish-immigrant setting and mood. We already got it, so move on and give us more substance.

However it cannot be denied that many of these detours make the film and setting – they are beautifully illustrated by lush colours that seem to bleed off screen–primary colours to suit primary, instinct-driven and hard-boiled men. The cinematography is just staggering. New York City is gritty, corrupt, bloody and bare-knuckled. I mean, I have seen Tarantino, Stone, Kramer and Cronenberg but this is by far the most violent and gory film I have ever watched. Such poignant, effective fights.

It is a shame the rest of the film is not as poignant, but desperately diluted. What saves it is Day-Lewis' magnificent presence on-screen as the brutal Butcher Bill, the occasional portrayals of gang-culture and the almost all-star ensemble cast that pop up in supporting roles throughout. A good film (just barely), but nothing more. "7" may be too generous, but hey...


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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Fear preserves the spectacle of life.

Author: Michael O'Keefe from Muskogee OK
21 January 2003

Martin Scorsese directs a savage and brutal masterpiece. A young boy(Leonardo DiCaprio)witnesses the killing of his father the Priest Vallon(Liam Neeson). Amsterdam Vallon(DiCaprio)returns from a fifteen year or so stay in reform school to the Five Points area of NYC seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher(Daniel Day-Lewis), his father's killer. Bill is a racist bully and believes he is the king of New York, or at least his own little corner of the world. Amsterdam gets in the good graces of the Butcher only to plot his demise. Along the way the young Vallon meets a pocket picking whore Jenny(Cameron Diaz)and reluctantly falls in love. The tribes of the city are summoned for the mother of all knock down drag out duels with the Butcher and Amsterdam intent on slaying the other.

The scenes of 1840s and 1860s New York City are awesome. Great photography and camera work. The most dramatic scene is of the blood covered and body cluttered snow at the film's beginning. This of course seems tame compared to the carnage that brings this epic to a close. Day-Lewis is commanding in his role of the Butcher, one the most egotistical and racist savage characters unable to escape your memory. DiCaprio seems an awkward choice for his role and at times seems unlikely to achieve his character's accomplishments. Diaz was down right fetching and I still believe she could tempt a dead man. Also in the cast are Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, David Hemmings, Joseph P. Reidy, Henry Thomas and John C. Reilly.

Sometimes a little bit too wordy and slow, but still this almost three hour film is strong enough to hold your interest and imagination. In spite of the nay-sayers I believe Scorcese is a master among his peers. And being Irish is no requirement for feeling some pride or sorrow.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Unrelenting misery

Author: burntom from Japan
8 January 2003

Not a shred of humanity shines through in this film to rescue it from being one of the most unpleasant cinematic experiences of recent years. Some say, "but it's Scorcese", afraid to consider that the master may have taken a misstep, and ready to admire his pet project on the basis of previous triumphs. I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree. For highly stylised characterisation, read "pantomine villains", for impressive design, read "an overwrought and unconvincing pastiche", for a captivating plot, read "a relentless barrage of violence, punctuated by the annoying musings of unsympathetic characters, none of whom arouse any sympathy".

I have no problem with violence in films, especially of the sort shown here. That is, brutal, unsettling and far more likely to make one a pacifist than a violent man. Usually, however, the violence is countered by the humanity shining through in at least one of the central characters. The only character capable of arousing pity and sympathy is this film is that of Cameron Diaz (under-used). Others, especially Di Caprio (as Amsterdam Vallon), simply arouse frustration, annoyance and contempt (are we suppose to respect this disturbed young man's violent revenge fantasy?).

The only plus note is the (historically accurate) incorporation of the anti-emancipation riots and lynchings of black men in New York during the Civil War into the plot. There have been few American films recently to show the ugly side of America's formation and I'll give the film a cautious plaudit for that at least.

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10 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

I'm looking for a sharp object to hurl myself on!

Author: artboy34 from United States
9 July 2003

Two words - "Barry Lyndon." Lord, this was awful! The music had no context, the historical fiction was truly horrid, and the acting stank. I want my money back! No, wait! Keep it, and start a fund for preventing movies this wretched from ever being made again.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Gangs of New York

Author: Edgar Storm from United States
30 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gangs of New York is a very violent movie. This makes sense because it takes place during the Civil War. There was a lot of disunity during this time as well as racism. Clearly, no one wanted to be drafted and blacks didn't have rights yet. Just be sure to know that there is a lot of blood and gore. At the same time, it is also a love story. While the two characters who fall in love do fall in love, they also find themselves mortified of where they live. Another thing to pay attention to were the flashbacks. They were one of the most helpful parts off the movie. They help the watcher get an idea of who some of the characters are from the beginning through the main character's eyes. Speaking of the beginning, I also suggest that you mute the TV until you see the battlefield. I had to watch this part a couple of times, because of errors on my computer, and the music will make your ears bleed. Don't worry though because you will get to hear it later. Actually all of the music was terrible but you only had to hear it once.

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