Click here 4 stars

one fist
at a time

Leonardo Di Caprio

Martin Scorsese shows his great stuff
in a tale of the Irish in 1800s New York

"Gangs of New York"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger versions and credits.)

It's a myth that immigrants have been welcomed to America with open arms. Immigrants have all too often been sneered at, spat upon and been the subjects of violence.

Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis

Still, immigrants were the bricks that built America. ''Gangs of New York'' is a story of some of those who built modern America, and it isn't pretty.

In the 1800s, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) wants his Irish comrades in the Five Points section of New York to be left alone. He wants freedom from the harrassment of the Nativists, led by "Butcher" Bill Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis). The two warring factions decide to settle their differences the old-fashioned way -- on the field of battle.

Vallon is backed by his lieutenant, Happy Jack (John C. Reilly) and the mercenary Monk McGinn (Brendan Gleeson), but to no avail - the Nativists carry the day after Cutting cuts down the Priest. Vallon's son is taken away to Hellgate to be raised as an orphan.

Forward to 1862. The Civil War is in full fury, and the word of the day is conscription. Irish immigrants continue to pour into New York, at a rate of 15,000 a week; ongoing for the 15 years since the potato famine of Black '47. The son of Vallon, Amsterdam (Leonardo di Caprio) has grown to manhood and intends to infiltrate Butcher Bill's gang, and then strike at his father's killer when the time is right.

Amsterdam meets a thief and cutpurse, Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) from whom he initially recoils, but the two fall deeply in love (in true Hollywood form).

Cutting has made an alliance with Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent) of Tammany Hall to deliver crucial votes in the upcoming election in exchange for political protection. However, the coming conscription is making everyone uneasy. Many don't want to fight for the rights of blacks, who are despised nearly as much as the Irish.

DVD notes

The two-disc collection has some wonderful extras, including a U2 music video for the Oscar-nominated song "The Hand that Built America," as well as commentary from Scorsese, several documentaries on set and costume design, the Discovery Channel special "Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York," as well as a featurette on the history of the Five Points area, as well as the usual cast and crew bios and trailer. This one is a must-have, especially for Scrosese admirers.

Still, Amsterdam quickly becomes one of Butcher Bill's best men, and the gang leader takes a liking to the young man, in almost a father-son relationship. Eventually, he discovers the true identity of Amsterdam and all hell breaks loose, leading to a confrontation. Unfortunately, the two leades pick a bad day for a fight - a riothas broken over the conscription act, and federal troops move in. A fight for survival becomes even more harrowing.

Director Martin Scorsese does an incredible job of evoking 1862 New York City. He establishes a realistic depiction, down to the language and idioms of the dialogue. The costumes, the sets, all reek of authenticity. There is a great deal of violence, which is to be expected. There is also a surprising amount of nudity, in bordellos where some of the movie is takes place

The cast is marvelous. Daniel Day Lewis gives his most electrifying performance since ''The Last of the Mohicans.'' It's a shame he doesn't do more movies. Di Caprio doesn't have to carry this movie, and as a result does a fine job. Reilly, Broadbent, Gleeson and Henry Thomas (as a friend of Amsterdam's) do solid work.

The problem here is the love story. It's extraneous, and detracts from the movie overall. The Jenny Everdeane character exists only to be Di Caprio's love interest, and doesn't contribute much to the story. It's billed as a love triangle, but the movie would have worked just as well, if not better, without it. Some of the 2-hour, 46-minute run time could easily have been excised.

Martin Scorsese is considered by some to be the greatest American film director of all time, and ''Gangs of New York'' does nothing to diminish that claim. It's an amazing epic that never averts its eyes from the seamier sides of the story, but refuses to wallow in them either.

It's probably too late for most to catch this on a big screen as it deserves to be seen, but the extra goodies on the DVD make this a worthwhile catch.

See cast, credit and other details about "Gangs of New York" at Internet Movie Data Base.