Gangs Of New York (2002)
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Review Date: December 17, 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian, Ken Lonergan
Producers: Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein
Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam
Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher
Cameron Diaz as Jenny
A young Irish lad named Amsterdam witnesses his father's death at the hands of a man named Bill the Butcher in the Five Points area of New York during the mid-1800s. Sixteen years later, the young boy returns to his old stomping grounds with plenty of attitude and stubble on his face, in the hopes of avenging the death of his pop. Debauchery, depravity, dishonesty and decadence ensue (along with my own shameless use of a thesaurus).
I saw this film one day after I saw another 3-hour epic entitled THE TWO TOWERS and just as with that film, I was both looking forward and hoping to enjoy the latest from Scorsese, but just as with that film, I was ultimately disappointed. In both cases, I could argue that three hours was just too long a runtime to tell these respective stories, with each film not providing enough substance, enough character development or enough twists and turns, to keep me interested, excited or entertained throughout. In the case of GANGS OF NEW YORK, the biggest problem wasn't its runtime as much as it was the story, which felt like it was trying to appease too many agendas at the same time, and ended up not truly fulfilling any of them. Is this film about gangs in New York? Sort of...but not entirely. Is this movie about a love affair between an angry young man and a cute pick-pocket? Sort of...but not entirely. Is it about revenge, is it about the history of New York during the late 1800s? Sort of. Lots of stuff is kind of covered in this movie, but none of it goes into much detail, other than the story of the young lad who wants to avenge his father's death. That tale, on its own, isn't original or engaging enough for this kind of movie, doesn't generate enough genuine passion, and as much as Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of the evil Bill the Butcher character kicked plenty of ass and kept me wide awake during any of his scenes, most of the picture is basically just a "build-up" to the final battle, and even that, once reached...isn't all that!

If there's one word that I can use to describe this long-in-waiting film by master filmmaker Martin Scorsese, it is "disappointing". This movie took forever to make, apparently cost over $100 million, built all of its sets entirely in Italy and was tinkered and edited with for months upon months, but the final product just doesn't cut it. There's no emotion in this movie. There's no real connection to the lead character. Why didn't they show us more of Leo as a child with his father? If you're going to make a 180-minute long movie and expect us to invest ourselves in the lead character, why not show more of his anger and thirst for revenge (see THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for a great example of this), instead of cutting to a "16 Years Later" insert card and plenty of uninspired voice-over? On top of all that, unlike most Scorsese films, this one doesn't even feature much of his usual style, and the soundtrack/score is almost non-existent (or it sucks). DiCaprio is serviceable in his role, and Diaz isn't as much of a thorn in this movie's side as I thought she might be (I thought she would kill this flick like Stone killed CASINO for me), but other than those two, the film doesn't really get into any other characters. It's also to note that their "scorching" love scenes aren't all that, and that their chemistry is lukewarm, at best. The scene-stealer, nay...entire movie-stealer here is Daniel Day-Lewis and his caricaturish, yet ironically believable and human, portrayal of a man who just seems to want the best for his country. Day-Lewis was apparently "in character" throughout this film's entire shoot (even during his days off) and I, for one, hope that he gets nominated for his brilliant encapsulation of this character.

Other than that, the opening battle sequence is a doozy, the sets are tremendous, the authenticity of the time is without question and the film's opening credits (which actually run at the end of the film) are fun. But overall, I can't say that much about this film remained engraved in my mind once I stepped out of the theater and back into the Snow Puddles of Montreal. Actually, that's not entirely true since the film's final shot is certainly a classy and memorable one. Maybe this movie might've worked better as a two-hour flick with a clearer focus of its intentions, or maybe it might've worked as is, but with more character development, more plot turns and more emotional zing. Or maybe we will see the "ultimate Scorsese version" of the film on DVD one day, but as it stands now, I was frustrated by this film's shoddy editing, let down by its so-so story and other than Day-Lewis, unimpressed with many of its characters, all of which made for a mediocre film which runs longer than it should, and impresses with only a few sparks here and there. Check it out on video and thank me for saving you the bucks in the morning (or tell me off, if you fall in love with it). PS: Look for a cameo by Scorsese himself as a wealthy gentleman eating dinner with his family, while Cameron Diaz infiltrates his home.

(c) 2004 Berge Garabedian
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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