Gangs of New York

Set in the 1860s era of New York, Martin Scorsese constructs a rich, gritty, intense atmosphere of a city in the early stages of formation. The streets and the people are dirty, the elite over-indulge, and the gangs fight everyone for control, including the police who are equally as corrupt as the politicians running the show.

At the heart of this is a gang that runs the Five Points area of New York led by Bill the Butcher played by the awe-inspiring Daniel Day-Lewis. On the opposing side, is Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amsterdam Vallon who shows up to take revenge on Bill for killing his father and eventually claiming his role in running a rival gang.

There’s too much that goes on for me to continue to describe the plot. The overview is that there’s some great character development on the part of DiCaprio’s character while the Butcher gets only more intense and a bit more off-hinge. In the world surrounding these characters, Cameron Diaz’s beguiling pick-pocket keeps the story on it’s toes while John C. Reilly as the police chief and Brendan Gleeson as the former thug for hire and current local hero keep the bar raised with engaging performances. Noone quite manages to shadow the masterful Day-Lewis, but his character (and DiCaprio’s) are the most grandiose ego-wise anyway, so the other performances compliment without exceeding the bar raised by the former.

Visually, the movie is a stunning re-creation of the era. The clothing, wardrobe, props, cars, and all the rest of it is a visual testimonial of a budget well spent. It’s all well crafted, even the dock where the irish immigrants landed during this time. Remarkable.

Scorsese is one of the greats for a reason and everyone and I mean everyone brings their A-game. It’s great to see all the actors put in command performances to keep up with one another. Cameron Diaz is fun to watch out of her usual bombshell persona, she’s tough, gritty and still manages to be alluring. DiCaprio is passionate as always and knows when to turn the dial up as well as when to make it subtle. And then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis who is in perfect form and makes the Butcher both someone you’d follow into battle but also fear as a formidable enemy, both charming and fierce.

An excellent movie, totally worth seeing.

reviewed by Sean McKnight