Gangs of New York represents the kind of old school cinematic excess such as Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments, with massive sets and thousands of extras, but with a modern arsenal of special effects to give it a little extra oomph.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Bill the Butcher, the old school gangster kingpin of New York in the 1860s. Lewis plays Bill as a shrewd politician, and brutal schemer. His performance, like in most of his films, is the movie.
Leonardo Decaprio plays the son of the man who used to run the other biggest gang in New York (Liam Neeson, in a great little cameo appearance…) who has finally grown up and is out for vengeance. This movie marked the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Decaprio and Martin Scorsese.
Cameron Diaz brings a lot of charisma, and obviously, sex appeal to her role as a small time pick pocket who winds up in a love triangle with the Butcher and Leo.
While all of that personal drama is unfolding, the city itself is on the brink of being ripped apart by racial division in the form of anti-immigrant fervor, as well as the brutal riots (the worst in American history) that happened when the Lincoln Administration (which I now imagine as Daniel Day Lewis’ fault as well thanks to his stellar job in THAT movie…) attempted to implement a military draft in the city.
This movie is full of eye and ear candy. Everything from the performances, the characters, the massive sets, meticulous attention to historical detail down to the vocabulary used in the writing tickles both my movie nerd bone and my history nerd bone.
Whenever I see this one on television, I cannot help but stop what I’m doing and give it yet another watch.
Gangs of New York gets a four out of five: GREAT.