Gangs of New York
After his self inflicted exile Daniel Day-Lewis has finally returned to the silver screen, coaxed back by űber director Martin Scorsese (who found him with a new trade as a cobbler, making hand crafted shoes). Scorsese has been trying to make this film for nearly three decades and originally wanted Robert DeNero to play the Leonardo DiCaprio role.
Set in 1846 the plot is rather more simplistic than first appears. As a child Amsterdam, witnessed his father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) being brutally killed during a gang fight, by William Cutting (more commonly known as Bill the Butcher). The fighting was the result of territorial disputes over the Five Points of New York between the first settlers (the Natives) and who they call the invading foreign hordes (predominantly Irish settlers who arrive daily by the shipload).
The Natives believe that they are entitled to all the power and riches that control of the Five Points affords as they are the ones who fought to create an independent United States and not the newer immigrants currently flocking in.
16 years later, Amsterdam (now played by DiCaprio) freshly released from Hellgate House of Reform, returns to his old neighbourhood to exact his revenge on Bill. There he learns from an old childhood friend, Johnny (Henry Thomas) that Bill rules the Five Points with an iron fist and that he has formed a loose alliance with local politician William ĎBossí Tweed (Jim Broadbent). While Tweed handles the political relations, Bill handles the more unsavoury aspects of their relationship.
Amsterdam decides that the best way to kill a king is to kill him in front of the whole court so he hatches a plan to infiltrate Bills gang and kill him during Billís annual celebration of Priestís death. It doesnít take Amsterdam long to gains Bills trust and affections. The older man takes an honest liking to Amsterdam, who he sees him as a younger version of himself with the same fire and passion in his heart as he had.
Amsterdam rapidly shoots up Billís organisation, soon becoming his right-hand man, yet the whole time trying to not to be seduced by the power afforded by his position. He also meets and starts to fall in love with Jennie Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) a streetwise pickpocket and hooker.
With an old associate of his father, Monk (Brendan Gleeson) who suspected Amsterdamís motive from the very start, constantly watching him and complicated revelations about the relationship between Bill and Jennie, Amsterdam becomes unfocused to his real purpose for returning. Can he really kill the man who murdered his father? And has he gotten too close to him?
Performances range from exceptional to some much miscast roles. The supporting characters are excellent and a very colourful bunch of scallywags. Each is played by character actors who always bring energy and charisma to the roles that they play. Jim Broadbent plays Tweed (and one of the few characters based on an actual historical figure) with gusto. John C Reilly who plays a former friend of Priest, who later becomes the local police constable and Billís lackey and Brendon Gleeson (as Monk) are excellent and very well suited to their roles. Liam Neeson might only be in the film for a short period but makes a very lasting impression.
Cameron Diaz looks too good for her character and seems to have taken a role that is very thankless leading to a bland performance. Even though some scenes were re-shot after the film was complete due to the lack of chemistry between Diaz and DiCaprio, there still isnít any sort of spark between them and as a result the whole love angle is dull and wasted. DiCaprio, who is a talented actor, seems to be out of his league especially when heís asked to interact meaningfully with any other character.
Daniel Day-Lewis is without a shadow of a doubt the best reason to watch this film. He might as well start clearing a space on his shelf for an Oscar (it really is that good). This is the sort of daring performance, full of riveting and colourful characteristics that every actors dreams off. Day-Lewis takes the opportunity to play this fantastic character, who is not only despicable, but also demands pity, respect and fear, with complete emersion. From his exaggerated walk, to his dress-sense (even looking like Dr Doolittle at one point complete with top hat and stripy trousers) he makes Bill one of the most believable, literate and intelligent villains. Day-Lewis plays Bill with intense ferocity, humour and a real sense of psychopath brooding. Superb and yet never falls into becoming a caricature. He also spent the whole time during filming in character, complete with accent, even to the extent of not talking to member of other gangs.
The story isnít complicated but appears much more so with the wealth of characters that emerge from the dirty streets of the fledgling New York. The father-son relationship between Amsterdam and Bill is by far the most interesting aspect of the film but when the obvious self-destruction of that occurs then the revenge plot returns, which weakens the film a great deal. The final part of the film is unbelievably rushed (and liberally different from the actual historical events) as Scorsese seems to try and cram the entire events surrounding the Draft Riots of 1862 into the last 25 minutes.
Gangs of New York isnít the faultless masterpiece that Martin Scorsese might have dreamed off, with the lack of chemistry between his stars and the very rushed ending. It is however one of the most interesting recently films, with almost every scene filled with teeming characters and a superb set. Despite its flaws, very few directors would have the ability to create a film of this magnitude, with such a grand scale and violence. It might not be Martin Scorseseís best film but it certainly his grandest.
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