Gangs of New York (2002) — Prime Daniel Day-Lewis method acting

“He was the only man I ever killed worth remembering.”

Justin’s rating: New York, my home sweet AHH! HERE! TAKE MY MONEY! JUST DON’T SEVER MY SPINE!

Justin’s review: Gangs of New York is about loyalties. It’s about the blindness of racism. It’s about the injustice of government. But mostly, it’s about how Daniel Day-Lewis’ pants go up to somewhere just south of his armpits. You would think that the filmmakers were creating a gross satire of the Senior Citizen Waistband Syndrome, but ultimately it creates the viewer impression that The Butcher (Lewis) has approximately four inches of torso and six feet of legs.

Apart from his fabulous knickers, The Butcher is not a nice fellow. As a leader of a gang of “Native Americans” (who claim nativity due to their being in America longer than most immigrants, but shorter than several actual natives), The Butcher marauds around the Five Points in New York City, drawing the ire of several immigrants including Leonardo “Romeo” DiCaprio. Amsterdam (DiCaprio), having recently hit puberty and sporting some very fashionable chin stubble, has a beef with The Butcher because the mean old man killed his father.

Amsterdam’s father ruled an Irish gang called the Dead Rabbits, and his young boy is just itching to take a crack at his killer. To do this, Amsterdam develops a cunning strategy of scowling a lot and getting people around him murdered while he cozies up to The Butcher as a Trojan Horse protégé. It’s all loverly ironic, I suppose, that Amsterdam’s father’s killer becomes his surrogate father, but I take my irony lighter than that, with two creams and no sugar. Fortunately, director Martin Scorsese restrains The Butcher from using the line “No! I… am your father!” in the final confrontation, unwilling to cross the line of complete plagiarism.

The blood feud storyline is not the main plot, however. America in the mid-1860s rocked in the extreme throes of growing pains (including a bit of, “I’m 18, my own person, and I can live on my own if I want to!”), felt no more strongly than in New York City. The movie creates a portrait of a slow burning fuse, as racism, gangs, Army conscription and public office corruption build up to a nasty explosion. The end game of this film hits hard for those of us who know little about history in this era, telegraphing the message that even one of the greatest American cities grew out of blood and general insanity.

While violent — extremely so, depending on your sensibilities — I push Gangs of New York on you like an overly eager telemarketing call. They did a terrific job with the period setting, creating a world both fascinating and detailed in its scope. But the real jewel of this movie is Day-Lewis, who originally comes across as one of your stereotypical moustache-twirling villains, but quickly shows true depth and acting chops in scene after incredible scene. You’ll hate him, you’ll admire him, you’ll rush to the accessories store to get a glass eye just like his. It’s a shame that Day-Lewis has been in a self-made seclusion for so long, because the film world is always richer with him in it. Seeing as how it’s been six years since his last film, you’ll want to catch this one before his next one in 2008.

2 comments

  1. I love Gangs of New York. While everyone is clamoring for the Italian gang films like casino or goodfellas, I feel like gangs of New York is one of martins best and most entertaining films. It’s has such rich style and atmosphere that for the entire film, I often want to live in that civil war period of nyc. But then realize how bad that would be and snap back.

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