a critiQal film review Gangs of New York (2002)

Plot: During a gang war for the Five Points area of New York, a young Irish boy sees his father killed by Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Day-Lewis). 16 years later, he (DiCaprio) returns to the place of his childhood to find that "The Butcher" now controls the Five Points. Now calling himself Amsterdam, the boy befriends "The Butcher" in hopes of someday getting close enough to kill him.

900 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 30s)
  • ...Scorsese manages to overcome the DiCaprio handicap to make another good film.

Ah, finally, another Scorsese picture! But, Gangs of New York seems a bit iffy…it stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz in New York in the 1800’s?

I wasn’t sure how well Leonardo could do, since he’s the most over-hyped actor around these days, after the fluke that was Titanic (1997). Sure, he did a pretty decent job in Romeo + Juliet, but could he really live up to a Scorsese picture, or is he just another flash in the pan?

Cameron Diaz, on the other hand, was pretty funny in Charlie’s Angels (2000) and it’s sequel (and way back in The Mask (1994)), but could she take on this serious role and do it justice?

I wanted to know, but wasn’t sure if I could sit through 3 hours of Leonardo and Cameron messing up, so I waited until Gangs of New York hit DVD. Could Scorsese score another hit (as all the critics were saying), or would he finally fall victim to bad casting?

Surprisingly enough, Leonardo showed some acting strength in Gangs Of New York. Leonardo really took his role to heart, and seemed to really grasp what Scorsese was trying to portray. He seems to have really grown in his acting since Titanic (1997), and it makes you wonder how much more growing he still has to do. If this is a sign of the progress he’s made so far, it will be interesting to see if he can keep his acting evolving, or if this is his peak.

Leonardo got a lot of credit early on for Titanic (1997), but, let’s face it, in that film the boat was the main star, not the actors. Joe and Jane Schmoe could have been on that boat and made a name for themselves, as long as they had the incredible scenery behind them. Romeo + Juliet gave the viewers a hint of the acting talent that young Leo was beginning to posses, and this movie is the pinnacle of that talent (so far?)

Cameron Diaz also put in a decent acting performance in this more serious role, and Daniel Day Lewis, who seems to have disappeared since My Left Foot and The Last of the Mohicans, returns with a vengeance in this film.

Also, as a kickoff to the film, Liam Neeson turns in quite an impressive, if short, performance himself, the likes of which we haven’t seen since his crowning achievement, Schindler’s List (1993). But, all the characters had a great storyline to thank for most of their success in this film.

There are some points where the story lags a bit, and the viewer’s attention may wane at some spots, but overall the storyline, and the actors, all turned in very good performances.

The storyline, as most Scorsese films’ do, started out simple enough, then grew in complexity. The story grew in depth so much that by the end, the viewer may be left a bit befuddled at all of the action taking place at the same time. The pace tended to vary between quick and a bit too slow, but the film does leave a good impression overall. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely worth the 3 hours.

The action sequences were very impressive, a trait common with most Scorsese films. This may have been on a grander scale than what we’re used to in a Scorsese film, but he still has a great eye for detail, and really was able to bring each and every fight to vivid life, as he did with the entire setting of the film. He makes the atmosphere so real you can almost smell it, and that’s truly what leaves the lasting impression after the film is done. Most great director’s achieve this, and that’s truly what makes them great.

It’s not just the storyline, it’s not just the characters that are created, it’s also the director’s ability to take us from our everyday life and transport us, albeit for a brief period of time, somewhere else. Stephen Spielberg did it in Schindler’s List (1993), George Lucas did it in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977), and Scorsese has done it before in Goodfellas.

There is one irritation of mine I’d like to point out about this film: the film itself spans both discs!! Why was this done? They could have fit the entire film onto one disc (as they have with Heat, Braveheart, etc.), but they chose not to – why? It pulls the viewer out of their storyline, and kicks them straight back into reality, if only for a few moments. Plus, it’s just plain annoying.

C’mon, folks – we’re living in the digital age – what is this 2 disc crap? That’s almost as bad as when you had to flip the DVD over to see the other half (anyone remember Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) when it came out on DVD the first time?). Aargh.

Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese’s latest film, takes the viewer on a journey through the boroughs of New York in the late 1800’s, and lets them taste the food, smell the air…and experience life for a few people.

While most people may shy away from the 3 hour playing time, don’t. After all, if Heat, Braveheart, and Casino can make it work…so can Gangs of New York.

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