Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York
Film review by: Witney Seibold

Gangs of New York
            When I see a film about honor in The Mob, I’m often confounded. How did honor become part of swindling and murdering? Martin Scorsese, with his overabundant and exhilarating new film “Gangs of New York,” offers a clue. The murder and violence and system of power were formed when the city was “a forge where a city would be built.” During the Civil War, when immigrants were pouring into New York. When those who were willing to kill indiscriminately, and offered rulership within the chaos became those who people followed. No American Dream. No fresh start from your own country. But surviving in Hell, and flattering those who might kill you.
            We begin in 1846 when the natives of New York, led by Bill “The Butcher” Cutter (Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the role like a Martian fop) make the first of many battles to decide who runs this town. Cutter kills Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), and for 16 years leads happily, robbing the people blind, controlling the gangs of the city, and annually honoring the memory of the man he killed. The Priest’s son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) turns up, having witnessed it all years before. His passion for vengeance softens when Cutter unexpectedly takes him under his wing. Amsterdam is soon Cutter’s right-hand man, falling in love with Jenny (Cameron Diaz, not as bad as you’d think), and catching up with those who didn’t fall in battle years ago (notably Brendan Gleeson, Henry Thomas, and John C. Reilly, all wonderful) There are grumblings about the draft, assassination attempts, and escalating violence until Amsterdam and Cutter are driven apart, and forced to face one another in the streets during the Draft Riots of 1863.
            I would describe the people as corrupt, but that word implies there is a higher standard. These people do despicable things because they need the fear of the people to rule. Does this attitude say anything important about the human condition? Well, more than it would seem. Usually wicked characters such as these are motivated by such ideas as lust or greed or some other deadly sin. These people do what they do because they need to. It’s the compromise for living in this city. Also, and more importantly, this film offers a new outlook on history. Points out a time to us when violence, passions, and angers began. Lets us see that the people themselves were the ones who wanted this world and thrived in it, no matter how loathsome. It teaches us that we may not need to do this anymore.
            Scorsese has passion about this film, and has not only packed with these wonderful ideas, but has given it his energetic flair. Indeed, to the point that it’s overproduced and chunky and overwhelming. It’s more than a bogged down history lesson, but an exciting epic full of action and joy and fascinating and details. It’s a very good film.

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Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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