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Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat," played by Daniel Day-Lewis...
"Gangs of New York" goes a lot of places but it never really goes where it should. It starts up slow, it gets slower, and ends really fast, too fast. For two and a half hours we are dragged through relentlessly gruelling scenes that pay no purpose to the film, and then the last ten minutes, the most vital point of the entire motion picture, the point where we are so hyped, pumped and ready for a big payoff, anything big, something big...fails. It quickly accelerates and ends with U2's award-winning song "The Hands That Built America," and the fancy-schmancy, slow-to-fast credits start rolling.
There are a lot of problems with "Gangs of NY." I didn't hate the movie, but it let me down. Let me point out everything I didn't like.
Martin Scorsese, one of my all-time favorite film directors, the man who brought us the amazing "Taxi Driver," the monumental "Goodfellas," the excellent "Casino," uses good, exciting camera techniques, with bright surroundings...but it feels like a reunion of "West Side Story." Everything is bright, dandy, happy, and things move from normal speed to super-speed, back to normal speed in a quick moment. It's like a mix between "Chicago," "Moulin Rouge," "Romeo and Juliet" (the DiCaprio version), and a really violent bloodbath-type movie.
In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to a pack of Irish emigrants, who live in "The Five Points," or something like that. I've never really heard anything about this in history lectures, which is why Martin Scorsese said he was so interested in telling the story. Anyway, after a gruelling three-minute-something introduction to our characters, which just shows them walking in slow motion through an underground Irish-inhabitated craphole, we see Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis' character Bill the Butcher duke it out with their armies. Let me state here that another "modern" camera technique used in the film was one during the fight scenes. Scorsese lets us see the attacks, and then as the attacker kills his opponent the camera goes super-fast and starts playing some sort of odd rock music in the background, that actually resembles my quitar amp when I first flick it on and it crackles. Anyway, Neeson dies, his son sees it happen, his son grows up into (drum roll please)...Leonardo DiCaprio! Here's our first mistake. DiCaprio, who proved himself a fine actor all over again with "Catch Me If You Can," one of his first films since that travesty "The Beach," cannot speak with an Irish-New York accent if he wanted to. OK, no big deal, right? Right.
Next, Leo plans revenge on Butch Cassidy (woops, honest mistake) by becoming part of his clan, saving his life, and then trying to murder him. Unfortunately, old pal Henry Thomas (yeah, the kid from "E.T.") rats him out, Bill the Butcher surprises Leo with a knife throw, and there-for-no-reason-except-for-the-male-teenaged-audience-to-come-see-the-mo vie Cameron Diaz screams and yells and eventually nurses Leo back to health, where he gets a band of Irish emigrants and plans his attack against Daniel Days-are-Loosened. (Was that a pun? I can't tell, I'm sure you can't, either.)
See how I summed that up in about one minute reading time? Translate that mess into a two and a half hour + film and you've got yourself the biggest flop since "Waterworld." Honestly, I have nothing against long films, AS LONG AS THEY HAVE AN INTERESTING STORY TO TELL WITH INTERESTING PROGRESSION. "Braveheart," "Titanic," all those two-VHS-tape movies have an interesting subject AND interesting progression, where things actually happen. Things don't happen much in "GoNY," due to Martin Scorsese milking the subject for all it's worth. There is only so much known about that time period, only so much to imagine, and Scorsese tries to do both: Dilute facts with explosions and history with modern-day camera techniques. Scorsese is a great director, one of the best, but I try to imagine how he could not have done better given the fact he has been planning this film for years, to no prevail because of studios saying "no." Now I see why. They realized that this could make for an interesting hour and a half film, but 2 hr. 40 mins is just wayyyyyy too long for a film that goes nowhere.
There are some really good performances in this film. Well, by one actor, at least. Daniel Day-Lewis as The Cat in the Hat is really convincing as Bill the Butcher, save the fact that it looks as if Dr. Seuss designed his wardrobe. The always-sweet, always-pretty, always-enjoyable Cameron Diaz dresses up frizzy again, just like in "Being John Malkovich," and tries to convince us her character is there for a reason, but simply put...well...she's just there for a love interest. It's really shallow and really quite pathetic. And Leo DiCaprio, the film's main star, who FINALLY proved to me with "CMIYC" that he was a great actor...just fails to capture the passion of his character, which he did in the much underrated "Catch Me If You Can," where he had a real love for his character, and got inside Frank Abagnale's skin. He did not do so great here. In fact, Martin Scorsese said he wanted to make this film realistic. If so, casting DiCaprio was the worst possible choice, because since when did Irish emigrants have well-chiseled facial features and talk like Pierce Brosnan from "Evelyn"?
"Gangs of New York" is a good film, but with so ensemble a cast, including John C. Reilly (who was in three Oscar-nominees this year) and Jim Broadbent, such a great director at the helm, so much hype, and so many years on the shelves, you'd think that the filmmakers would have had more time to make something great, and could have translated something a bit more interesting onto the screen. I'm not saying change the story. I'm saying shorten the length. "Gods and Generals" was an hour longer than this movie, and ten times worse, but I can't help but think that at least "Gods and Generals" tried to say something, and "Gangs of New York" did not.
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