Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
There is one reason to see Gangs of New YorK: Daniel Day-Lewis’s Bill the Butcher. As a screen villain Bill ranks right up there (well, almost) with Hannibal Lecter.
Yet there is something missing from this movie, something that another Scorsese movie (Bringing Out The Dead) has in spades: humanity. Gangs Of New York is all about a dehumanizing period in U.S. history, one where the quick death and easy cruelty of the Old World and New World ran in parallel. And it ain’t pretty.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can) is good as the main hero, out for revenge for Bill the Butcher had murdered his dad many years ago as he watched. I always enjoy Leonardo.
Cameron Diaz is barely adequate. She projects neither intelligence (she’s supposed to be a pickpocket in 1860’s New York) nor interesting sensuality. I found her boring and much preferred her as the voice of Fiona in Shrek 2.
After Day-Lewis the real star of the movie is New York in the 19th Century. It’s fascinating to see little known details of the underbelly of US history portrayed so well (especially when filming took place in Italy!) If this causes some folks to go out and pick up some serious books about topics like Irish Immigration and Civil War related social unrest, that’s good.
There’s probably a good movie in here somewhere. As it is Scorsese doesn’t seem to be projecting a coherent story or feeling. Maybe it’s the myriad of sub plots and characters, or maybe it’s the down and dirty brutailty. Either way, the movie suffers. At times it seems to be veering off into a too familiar revenge saga, but then Day-Lewis or the epic production values reel us back in, at least temporarily.
Maybe Scorsese will come back to this some day and recut it into something tighter and more consistent. For now, it’s an interesting rental as long as you can stomach the violence and are fond of gaslight.
The movie is stretched across two DVD’s. There are extras on both, including commentary by Scorsese. I started listening to the commentary but stopped — I realized I really didn’t care even though he provides a wealth of information. The Discovery Channel documentary is just a puff piece, useless. There is a post-production Scorsese walking tour of the rundown outdoor sets where he comments on the different photographic sources for the individual buildings, but it’s not a well rehearsed piece and he seems ill at ease in front of the camera. This tour is combined with an interesting “360” panorama feature that allows you to hit “enter” and rotate the “camera” for a 360-degree rotating view of the outdoor sets.
I guess my basic feeling is that Scorsese should stick to smaller films.