Martin Scorsese’s sprawling and richly detailed ode to New York circa 1860 is an aggressive masterpiece. The film’s release was pushed back a year after 9/11. The breathing room actually gives the picture a greater urgency and weight it perhaps would have without the tragedy of September 2001. Regardless, Gangs of New York is a crowning achievement in every technical department and the performances are both memorable and finely tuned. Daniel Day-Lewis’ character is one of the century’s great villains. Day-Lewis’ scenery-chewing antics are counterbalanced by a low-key but spot-on DiCaprio as the film’s protagonist.
Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the son of a slain Irish immigrant. He returns to the Five Points to murder his father’s killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), a powerful anti-immigrant gang leader. While Amsterdam’s true identity is unknown to Bill this allows the young man to infiltrate Cutting’s inner circle and gain his trust.
Gangs of New York explodes onto the screen with striking imagery, compelling characterizations, and recounts a little known period in the growth of one of the world’s greatest cities. Scorsese has crafted one of his finest works in a movie that contains stark violence, irony, and hard truths. Some might be let down by the film’s climax, which intercuts between a street fight and a riotous mob, but the artistic merit and superb storytelling overcome the few shortcomings.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz