Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was on in cinemas in the UK and US in November and is now on Netflix internationally. So Tripwire set its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows and senior editor Andrew Colman the mammoth task of watching and reviewing all of his films. Next up is 2002’s historical drama Gangs Of New York reviewed by Joel Meadows…
Gangs Of New York
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo Di Caprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Brendan Gleeson
It took three years for Scorsese to make his follow-up to Bringing Out The Dead, Gangs of New York. Reuniting him with screenwriter Jay Cocks from The Age Of Innocence, Gangs Of New York is loosely based on Herbert Asbury’s historical work of the same name. Scorsese was drawn to this project because of the fact that he grew up in Little Italy, and realised that the arrival of immigrants to New York began a long time before the Italians moved there at the end of the 19th century. It was also a chance for Scorsese to produce a folkloric movie about a protean and tribal city that had basically nothing to do with his experience of it.
There are, needless to say, certain issues with Gangs Of New York, which like any latter Scorsese entry certainly wasn’t lacking ambition and scope. Its opening is masterful and immersive: the gruesome pitched battle between The Dead Rabbits, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), and the Protestant Natives, headed by the somewhat psychopathic Bill The Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a muscular riot of bloody ultraviolence. But Scorsese can’t maintain the impact of this opening scene, and the movie does gradually recede into stylized revenge drama, with DiCaprio as Amsterdam, son of Vallon, out to avenge the murder of his father, killed by the Butcher. DiCaprio, on his maiden Scorsese voyage, is competent without evoking anything specific to the setting, while Day Lewis on the other hand certainly looks the part, commanding the screen with intensely focused abandon. Day Lewis’s turn is an unsurpassable masterclass, all leering, controlled aggression which absolutely inhabits the mise en scene, yet he cannot elevate the film enough to match the cinematic whirlwind of the first reel.
The film is hampered due to being shot in the iconic yet unsuitable Cinecitta Studios in Rome, whose soundstages conferred the film with a trite artificiality, that does withdraw the audience from the narrative. The film inevitably went $25m over its initial budget, which did cause problems with the movie’s post-production – however the main issue was with the unreality of Cinecitta, when the film needed a brutal, hostile and uncompromising backdrop.
The supporting cast is brimming with superb character actors such as Stephen Graham, Jim Broadbent (as corrupt New York mayor Boss Tweed), Brendan Gleeson (as the Butcher’s adversary Walter Monk McGinn) and of course Cameron Diaz, who excels in her role as DiCaprio’s love interest Jenny Everdeane – her wonderfully nuanced performance was definitely the best of her career. However, its conclusion, in which the city virtually implodes due to mass rioting, seems rushed and incoherent . For the most part, Gangs Of New York collapses under the weight of its reckless ambition – typical for Scorsese, yet still admirable even in its shortcomings, as no other director ever tackled this overlooked period in New York’s history. Unlike other entries in his oeuvre, it lacks tonal consistency and thematic cohesion. Nevertheless this movie is still worth investigating for diehard fans and casual cinemagoers alike.
Here’s the film’s trailer
Here’s the other Month Of Marty reviews so far as well