Film reviews

Gangs Of New York - Dir: Martin Scorsese

Gangs Of New York has had so much publicity and marketing thrown at in the past few months that anyone not having heard of it must be Saddam Hussein’s lonely companion in his subterranean bunker. The reason for this is that Miramax films (Harvey and Bob Weinstein) invested a huge $100m in the production of this film. Thus the inevitable clash between art and commerce come into play, a clash that becomes more apparent about ninety minutes into the film. Let me start at the beginning:

The film is a period gangster story loosely based upon rise and fall of the gang / Irish - immigrant culture in New York in the middle of the 1800’s culminating in the violence that swept the city in the riots of 1863. Any claims that the film is more biographical than fictional should be viewed with a little suspicion though.

The film stars the ladies favourite coffee-maker, Leonardo Di Cappuccino along with Daniel (Bill the Butcher) Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. The film opens with a prologue: a battle between two gangs; On one side Liam (The Priest) Neeson’s Irish immigrants and on the other side Daniel Day-Lewis’s gang, descended from Irish immigrants. This culminates in Bill the Butcher slaying The Priest, witnessed by Cappuccino as a young boy. After this the immigrants are told to disband and Day-Lewis and his gang are left to rule the blossoming New York gang world.

The prologue over, we are taken forward a number of years so that the young Cappuccino is now a strapping young man with revenge on his mind. Then, through a series of events he finds himself in the favour of the unknowing Bill the Butcher and as the story unfolds further he saves the life of Bill the Butcher. This dichotomous element thrown upon the Cappuccino character is excellent and is further enhanced by Bill the Butcher’s praise and chivalrous dignity of the slain Priest.

The film is sliced (or should I say spliced) into two halves, the first half ending with Bill the Butcher having a midnight heart to heart with Cappuccino. This first half of the film is excellent, obviously there are some short-comings, most notably the very brief appearance of Liam Neeson, who has such a presence and enigmatic air about him, but this is more than made up with by the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who produces one the best performances I have seen in the last 10 years. Truly amazing. That $100m also gives a good showing in the form of the huge sets built in order to recreate that 1860’s New York.

The second half of the film starts immediately after that scene and events seem to happen at not only an alarmingly quick pace but also a rather simplistic narrative unfolds as Cappuccino’s identity is revealed to Bill the Butcher and the film begins is inexorable journey to the confrontation between Cappuccino and Bill the Butcher. This comes as somewhat of a let down as the relationship between the two in the first half is so interesting and beguiling. This duel takes places amongst the chaos of the 1863 riots and much of the $100m budget is also apparent in this finale.

Cappuccino and Diaz give reasonable performances giving themselves a few points in the acting kudos stakes but it is Day-Lewis who steals the show. Other notable mentions should be given to Brendan Gleeson, who plays the Monk. Gleeson matches Neeson for screen presence and enigma but seems to have much of his performance left on the cutting room floor; And also Jim Broadbent who plays William Tweed. Other supporting characters are briefly introduced too but seem to have virtually no further part in the story, again perhaps cut out in order to save time.

So why is the second half such a disappointment? Well in order to get more people into the cinema each day the shorter a film is the more performances can be screened each day. The original cut of the film was rumoured to be four hours long but the agreement Scorsese had with Miramax was that the film should run no longer than 170 minutes. Add to this the completely inappropriate U2 pop song tagged onto the end of the film and we see the marketing men have been crunching numbers again. Thus we can wait for the DVD which hopefully will have the director’s cut of the film.

6/10 (But worth seeing at the cinema due to its epic nature)

Harry Lime

Odeon Online


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