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Gangs Of New York (R)
Official Site
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producers: Alberto Grimaldi, Martin Scorsese, Harvey Weinstein
Written by: Jay Cocks. Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan; from the book by Herbert Ashbury
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Henry Thomas, John C. Reilly, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson

Rating: out of 5

Mister Director Man Scorsese, a lower Manhattan native, read Herbert Ashburyís 1928 book, Gangs Of New York, in 1970. And thus began the 32-year saga of the making of his epic drama of the same name. Now, itíd be pretty hard for a film with such a production schedule and three official screenwriters (and countless unofficial script editors who wrote the film over a period of two decades) to live up to expectations.

Thus, it is a bit anticlimactic. Donít get me wrong; itís decently entertaining and probably very well-researched historically (donít quote me on that though). It doesnít drag too much through its near-three hour running time. But it doesnít soar either.

Basically, Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) is a young Irish American orphan plotting secret revenge on the murderer of his father, portrayed briefly by Liam Neeson. The murderer, Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis) is a nativist, opposed to immigration and willing to butcher anyone who gets in his way. Then thereís the girl, Jenny Everdeane (Diaz), a sly pickpocket who develops an overly idealistic relationship with Amsterdam before revealing her formulaic past affair with Bill.

Set in 1863 NYC, amid the influx of Irish (and other, apparently less filmworthy immigrants) and Civil War draft riots, Gangs Of New York is without doubt a grand and beautiful film with brilliant sets, costumes, effects, and talent.

Oh, the talent. The three stars are among my favorites working today. The director is amazing; the writers are accomplishedóone wrote Schindlerís List for Godís sake! Yet somehow it doesnít gel. Too many writers in the kitchen? Too many cooks in the production? Likely.

óMichelle Fajkus


Another Rating: ** (2) out of 5

What is this world coming to? Steven Spielberg makes a movie I actually enjoy (Catch Me If You Can) and Martin Scorsese lets me down.

As a young boy, Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) witnessed a brutal street war between native-born Americans, led by Butcher Bill Cutting (Day-Lewis), and Irish immigrants, led by Amsterdamís father, Priest Vallon (Neeson). This slaughter, presented in shots that streak through slo-mo to a stop, is accompanied by weird distracting percussion music, like Irish tribal techno or something. Butcher Bill crosses the field of battleóa commons in New Yorkís Five Pointsóand kills Priest Vallon. The grief-stricken son takes up his fatherís weapon to attack, but is overpowered. And does Bill kill the kid? He does not. Young Amsterdam is then hauled away to an orphanís institution, where he spends the next decade or so outwardly compliant but inwardly seething and, like a young Vito Corleone, plotting to avenge his fatherís death. By 1862, he is old enough to leave the orphanage, and of course he returns to Five Points and insinuates himself into Billís gang, coming as close as anyone might to entering into Billís warm regard.

Thatís about it. Will he avenge his fatherís death, or will he be co-opted and become a company man for Bill? This isnít the first movie youíve been to: What do you think? Thereís loads of atmosphere, generated by the no doubt meticulously researched sets and period slang, and cute little touches like the American eagle in Billís glass eye. There are also buckets of blood and rivers of gore, fitting considering the non-stop killing that goes on. The borough is as much an abattoir as Billís butcher shop is. Scorsese has never been shy about showing us the violence, and the rarity of gunplay in this setting and the profession of one of the leads allows him ample creative space for innovative impalings, guttings, slashings, and general edged-weapon gruesomeness. Thereís also a girl, Jenny Everdeane, played by the woefully miscast Cameron Diaz. Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis is a great actor, but then the role of Bill the Butcher is a ďgreat actorĒ role, heís such a dominating character. Itís all simultaneously just too much and not enough. Weíve seen enough stories of this kind to be able to write a goodly part of it ourselves, but we couldnít make it compelling. Neither, unfortunately, could Mssrs. Cocks, Zaillian, and Lonergan.

What is compelling about Gangs Of New York is the history. When Boss Tweed (a rather plummy Broadbent) is on the screen, the story crackles. And the last 30 or 40 minutes, dealing with the Conscription Act and the draft riots, are downright riveting. Thatís the problem, in a nutshell. The stuff that deals with the times is gripping. The larger part of the movie, dealing with the main characters and their conflict, is not.

óRoxanne Bogucka


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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