Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York is an expensive, glittering turd of a movie laid by the woefully off-form Scorcese. This is an overblown, overly expensive and deeply unsatisfying film which recounts the dubious history of the gang warfare which raged in New York in the middle of the 19th century.

The story is about a boy, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Di Caprio), out to avenge the murder of his father. The movie opens with a pitched battle between largely Catholic immigrant gangs and earlier immigrants calling themselves the Natives. Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis) leads the Natives and he slays Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) in front of his son Amsterdam. The boy is spared and escapes to spend the next decade or so in an institution.

Bill the Butcher in his Rupert the Bear trousers

Upon release Amsterdam is keen to return to the Five Points area where he grew up and once back he soon bumps into his father´s murderer Bill. Bill takes the aspiring thug under his wing and teaches him about running the dodgy side of town. He also bumps into love interest Jenny Everdeane (a terribly miscast Cameron Diaz) and the two begin a yawn inspiring love/hate relationship. Add to the mix a couple of corrupt politicians, more notably William "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent), and a host of thugs such as McGloin (Gary Lewis) and the violence comes thick and fast.

The story is a ludicrous pile of guff from Jay Cocks and he has dropped in a huge amount of unrelated history from the time about the Union Army, draft riots, racial tension, immigration, robbery and even the battling amateur fire departments. None of this is weaved into the story; instead it is wedged in with little thought and so sits jarringly with the main thread.

The direction from the usually brilliant Scorcese is simply awful. Perhaps with a certain level of success comes arrogance and an inability to really see how bad your work is at times - I find it hard to believe he could watch this back and be happy with it. The historical background is simply dropped in via news articles and bizarre narration which becomes quite confused in places and really feels separate and unrelated to the main action. As for the actual characters they look absolutely ridiculous, the fights resemble a musical and I kept expecting the colourfully decorated thugs to start dancing around each other or for Daniel Day Lewis to burst into song.

A very slow and meandering storyline unwinds and Amsterdam eventually saves the life of Bill only to try and murder him soon after. It makes no sense at all. The final battle is built up and built up and then he delivers an awful anti-climax which sees some ships in the harbour bombing the area and spoiling the fight before it has even begun. You have to question the nobility of these thugs fighting each other, poor against poor, when there was so much else going on around them, I personally don´t see anything worthy of praise but then Scorcese does seem to be awestruck by murderers.

Di Caprio and his brightly coloured gang

The acting is shockingly bad as well, though this is mainly due to miscasting. Leonardo Di Caprio looks and sounds like a naive American teen that your granny could beat up in a fight, here he plays an Irish ruffian who is very handy with a knife. His accent is terrible and the idea of him as a hard man is just laughable. Cameron Diaz manages an even worse accent as another Irish immigrant, Jenny. She is supposed to be a fiery Irish lass but Cameron Diaz is about the worst choice ever for this type of role and she really fails to convince. Daniel Day Lewis is obviously labouring under the misapprehension that he is playing a comic book baddie; his portrayal of Butcher Bill comes complete with a comedy accent, ridiculous appearance and abundant bouts of wild shouting and gesticulating. Liam Neeson is the most convincing of the bunch and he dies far too soon at the beginning of the film.

This really is a stinker of a film, it manages to go on and on into boredom infinity. Two hours and forty five minutes of absolute rubbish. This is like an ill-educated yank´s view of what history might have been like, desperate to throw in the sort of sentiment he saw in Gibson´s Braveheart and assigning the same noble warrior status to a bunch of thieves and murderers in the filthy armpit which was 19th century New York. This bears no relation to anything that ever happened on this planet ever.

Everything about this film really disappoints, it is all style and no substance with trace echoes of Scorcese´s finer days from such classics as Goodfellas and Mean Streets. The problem is when he goes outside what he knows the results are disaster and this is a prime example. The only viable reasons to watch this film are curiosity about the decline of Scorcese, or to marvel at a performance so over the top that it makes Dafoe in Spiderman look positively subdued - Daniel Day Lewis as Bill the Butcher cannot fail to make you laugh.


Reviewed by Simon Hill

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