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Mikeometer Rating: 10 of 10 Dec. 2002






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Martin Scorsese's "The Gangs of New York" 2002 The ElectricMovie of the Year

The Best Picture of 2002 is now out on DVD. The wait was long. The results are stupendous. "The Gangs of New York" is not just a movie. This isn't just a history lesson. It's a truly violent look at America seen through the discerning eye of the world's greatest living director. This is certainly not an easy film to recommend if scenes of bloody retribution and epic misunderstanding easily offend or upset you as a viewer. I believe it is a document that serves to explain, in vivid detail, and with no holds barred, how and why America exists as the seemingly free and open, but conflicted and conflicting country it is today. "Gangs" is Martin Scorsese's "Eastern", a period drama of Men in Tall Hats who fight for the right to live on the lower rungs of the ladder of American Prosperity. It is not easy to watch. It is three hours long. It certainly cannot be called a "beautiful" film.(However, it is beautifully photographed by Michael Ballhaus. (A Scorsese regular) It certainly is an important film, and is a "Movie That Matters" for the ages. You can click on any number of website entries on the internet to find images and reviews of any film, including this one. On these pages I will attempt to explain why this film is important, what I, as an avowed "movie buff" who likes more than I dislike, have gleaned from experiencing it, and most of all, why it is a "Movie That Matters"
Michael F. Nyiri
poet, philosopher, fool, and film historian


The pullback shot after the initial gang fight in the Five Points district of New York City, 1846



I began the following "review" back in December, after I saw "Gangs of New York" in the theater.
I felt conflicted. Both "The Gangs of New York", Martin Scorsese's two years in the can period masterpiece, sure to be his career high, and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", the second in the history making J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy by Peter Jackson, soon to be the highest paid director in Wellywood, were competing with each other this past weekend. Two long awaited, "too long" awaited in the case of the Scorsese picture, "serious Pictures", "oscar contenders", nay, I feel "Gangs", sight unseen except for those glorious images in the previews, which I've been watching for the past two years,is far and away the logical choice of the academy this year, two long awaited films coming out the same weekend. Well, "LOTR:TTT" came out on Wednesday, and by the looks of the lines I saw on Sunday at two pm at the AMC complex in Torrance, will easily make over $100 million to "beat" the "blockbuster game


But what to do? Obviously, if this weren't the Christmas holiday, I would see both. But I didn't even want to leave the house into the gloom of Saturday, and I didn't want to spend the whole day in the theater either. Both LOTR and Gangs are nearing the three hour mark.
So if it were to be Rings, it was sure to be crowded.
And Gangs was getting negative press.
First Ebert dissed the master for not delivering "the quintessential Scorsese film." Then I heard Ken Turan of the LA Times grousing about how "nothing much happens in three hours" and "all the authenticity and great acting can't disguise the fact that there is no plot, even though two of the most respected writers in Hollywood, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan wrote the script.
In the end, after the last fade,
It doesn't matter that both Turan and Ebert have their heads up their asses.
"Gangs of New York" is Martin Scorsese's masterpiece after all. The film he had wanted to make throughout his career Is the capstone at this moment, and completely forgives his earlier misdirected "Bringing out the Dead."
The one sentence review: "A Revelation of style, substance, period, language, and poetry." If this film doesn't get an Oscar for Best Picture,and if Scorcese doesn't win for direction, an award he does not yet have, then the reason for existence will have to be thought about more closely.

Vallon Falls. Amsterdam watches in horror.

"The blood stays on the blade.": "Priest" Vallon
The picture was in fact snubbed by the academy, but it doesn't matter. "Gangs of New York" is out on DVD. I'd been waiting months, nee, in the case of the theatrical run, years, to see the movie, and then to own the DVD when it appeared, and it just appeared. I bought a copy at DVD Planet, and had to stop watching the DVD in order to put down some thoughts while the film is now ringing in my consciousness once again! I noticed I had started a review, and didn't even get into the film at all, so now here goes. I consider "Gangs of New York" to be the most important film in recent release, and a must see for everyone who wishes to be a witness to some of the oldest and ugliest truths in American history.
I had said in December that I would have to think about the reason for existence if this film didn't win the Oscar, and I doubly felt it was being lambasted when the Best Director nod went to Polanski instead of Marty. I didn't really have to think too much about the reason for existence when finally I viewed "The Pianist" on DVD.. Roman Polanski certainly deserved a Best Directing award. "Pianist" is a masterpiece. "Gangs of New York" though, is not only a masterpiece of modern filmmaking and a Movie That Matters, it is art of the highest degree. I forgive the Academy for choosing the musical, "Chicago". I'm sure I'll like it better on DVD on my HDTV than I did in the theater, but it is a trifle compared to "Gangs." The terrible thing about all the hoopla given the awards is that while "Chicago" and "The Pianist" will grace so many of those Media Movie Lists as a result of the awards, the common moviegoer's perceptions have been molded by the media to the point where GONY is thought to be an inferior work by a failed master with miscast roles, no characterization, and too long a running time. Most folks will pass early on, and not even give the film a try. I'd like to tell the moviegoing public that they owe it to thenmselves to stop believing the critics and see for themselves.


I have read so much about the disparity between the events of the film and truth. Or should I say "history". Well, I've said in these pages again and again, since when are movies telling the truth about history? Movies are, were, and will always be pure artifice. At the least, they will entertain us. At the most, they will inform, enlighten, and elucidate us. I believe GONY fulfills that order on all counts. If anyone ever listens to those director commentaries, they know that "nothing is real" in the movies. The filmmakers confess this again and again. (I confess I'm writing this before I listen to Marty's commentary on the disc (as usual)) . Scorsese is telling the American people that this country was and is a warzone of inequal and vocal warring tribes. We the people have always been just a bunch of hoodlums stepping on each other to get to the top. He is showing us history all right. And in the bargain, he pretty much shows us as well the history of the movies. I've read "reviews" which state that the "sets" look too much like sets! Come on, people! They're supposed to. The movie was made on a studio set, and it looks like it, sort of like the Universal tour only it was done at Cinecitta in Italy. (Marty tours the set with Dante Ferretti, his production designer, in one of the special features on the DVD, and the set is a marvel!) I didn't write the review after I saw the film the first time because I knew I needed to see this film again. (And again. And again.) I got the feeling in the theater that Marty was giving me some filmic hints with so much subtlety that some of them would be missed by a casual moviegoer. (Or one with a history text in hand trying to call the director on his period timing and detail.) Excellent films are made to be seen multiple times.(I'm not making this up, either. Brian DePalma for one confesses this in one of the docs on the "Femme Fatal" DVD)

Bill "The Butcher" Cutter is introduced in 1863 in red white and blue glory, marching through the streets of New York as if he owned the town.








I suspected when I first viewed "Gangs" but don't remember reading anything about it, that Scorsese alluded to many of his earlier (er,I mean, later, in the "historical" sense) films within the body of the film. Now that I am in the midst of watching the movie for the second time, I'm fairly sure this is so. Marty is a film buff who points out on the old Criterion laserdisc of "Taxi Driver" (1974) which shots he stole from his favorite French directors. He is not only a consummate filmmaker, he experiments with the language of film in order to make his point. (Remember the dizzying fall right alongside Harvey Kietel as he passes out in "Mean Streets" *(1973) (I call it the Harveycam shot) or remember experiencing the dread induced by the overhead tracking shot in the last reel of "Taxi Driver", one of the most stylistic pieces of recent memory. Then there is the almost musical shock of the freeze frame early on in "Goodfellas" (1990). "Gangs" is full of the Scorsese brand of filmmaking. A "subjective" view of the subjects, from their (and our, as the Hitchcockian audience) point of view. This is not only a period piece that shoves our faces in our own brutality, which doesn't ever seem to go away. (The blood stays on the blade, remember?) Marty has constructed as his penultimate movie a film which is not only his "Gone With The Wind" but his "Duel In the Sun" as well. Marty has always confessed to loving "Duel in the Sun" (1946, a Movie That Matters"). He begins his excellent "A Personal Journey Through American Movies" (1995) talking about it. "Lust in the Dust", as it was called by critics when it came out, was David O' Selznick's attempted follow-up (think: franchised sequel) to his blockbuster hit, "Gone with the Wind" (1939). It was derided in it's day, and was considered camp when I saw it in film school in 1974. It was a "movie movie" western like "GWTW" was a romanticized Civil War Movie. The western didn't really peak until Anthony Mann's 1950's color travelouges with Jimmy Stewart, but was a tried and true genre when "Duel" came out. This isn't a review of that film, but it explains the "look", "mood", and script of "Gangs." "GONY" is supposed to be colorful, stylized, and "epic cinema". It recalls a period, in the late thirties and forties when producers were attempting to "create art" as well as churn out the standard dreck and drivel which passes as Hollywood Entertainment. If one is looking for a documentary about the Five Points area of New York, or the Draft Riots of 1863, then they are missing the grandeur that is "GONY". (There is an excellent Discovery Channel doc on the DVD, by the way, but I haven't watched all of it yet.)
The critics didn't watch "GONY" as closely as it merits. They felt they had to, well, "criticize" it. As someone who hated "Bringing Out the Dead", I was preparing myself after reading the reviews in December, for a stinker. I couldn't have been more happy when presented with the final masterpiece.

Jim Broadbent ("Topsy Turvey", "Moulin Rouge") is "Boss" Tweed, the political patriarch of Tammany Hall, who only "embraces" the immigrant Irish as future voters. Here he makes a point of politics to Bill Cutter, explaining: "The spirit of the law has to be upheld. Especially while it's being broken."

Having the film on DVD is even more special. I've now seen it (almost) twice on my widescreen TV in the dark, even before finishing this "review" piece. I am astounded.
Marty's allusions to his own movies are not presented with a wink, so it might be easy to dismiss them. The first one comes in the very first scene. In 1967, Scorsese made a student film called "The Big Shave." The blood stays on the blade. In "Mean Streets", Harvey Kietel's Charlie Cappa is a devout Catholic. In "Gangs", we are introduced to "Priest" Vallon, leader of the immigrant Irish gang, "The dead Rabbits", played by Liam Neeson, as he marches into battle with the "American Natives" gang. He holds a crucifix, and stands firm for the Holy Roman Church. When his son, Amsterdam, who sees him perish in the fight, leaves the Workhouse 16 years later, the image of Robert de Niro's Max Cady in "Cape Fear" comes to mind.
When Amsterdam Vallon is updated as to the fate of the denizens of the Five Points, and is introduced to the various "gangs" by his friend Johnny, played by Henry Thomas, I was reminded of the introduction of the gangsters scene in the bar in "Goodfellas". In a later scene in the theater watching "Uncle Tom's Cabin". there is an attempted assasination of Bill "The Butcher", just as in "Taxi Driver", an attempted assasination drives the plot. We have a boxing match overseen by Cutter and Amsterdam, which alludes to "Raging Bull." Happy Jack is crucified, much like Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ". A closer look will probably find more of these subtle allusions. I probably don't even have to mention that Daniel Day Lewis stars in "The Age of Innocence." I believe Marty is making his "Duel In the Sun". In my opinion it is his "GWTW" as well. With "Mean Streets", "Goodfellas" and "Casino", he has already told the story of Italian American immigration. Those are the "Little Italy" films. "Gangs" takes place in time before that period. In fact, Little Italy doesn't exist yet during the period of "GONY". The Italian Americans, who were spat upon and derided by the Irish Americans when they came over to the USA on disease laden ships are replaced by those same Irish Americans in GONY. The Irish Americans are the lower class citizens and as such, it is up to the gangs such as the "Dead Rabbits"
to stake a claim in the worst slums of the city.

Click Here for Page Two of "Gangs of New York"

'Gangs of New York'

MPAA rating:R, for intense violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

Leonardo DiCaprio ... Amsterdam Vallon
Daniel Day-Lewis ... Bill the Butcher
Cameron Diaz ... Jenny Everdeane
Liam Neeson ... Priest Vallon
Jim Broadbent ... William "Boss" Tweed
Brendan Gleeson ... Monk McGinn
John C. Reilly ... Happy Jack
Henry Thomas ... Johnny

An Alberto Grimaldi production, released by Miramax Films. Director Martin Scorsese. Producers Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein. Executive producers Michael Hausman, Maurizio Grimaldi. Screenplay Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan. Story Jay Cocks. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Costumes Sandy Powell. Music Howard Shore. Production design Dante Ferretti. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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Leonardo DiCaprio ... Amsterdam Vallon
Daniel Day-Lewis ... Bill the Butcher
Cameron Diaz ... Jenny Everdeane
Liam Neeson ... Priest Vallon
Jim Broadbent ... William "Boss" Tweed
Brendan Gleeson ... Monk McGinn
John C. Reilly ... Happy Jack
Henry Thomas ... Johnny

An Alberto Grimaldi production, released by Miramax Films. Director Martin Scorsese. Producers Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein. Executive producers Michael Hausman, Maurizio Grimaldi. Screenplay Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan. Story Jay Cocks. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Costumes Sandy Powell. Music Howard Shore. Production design Dante Ferretti. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Marty wanted to make this film for over 25 years.

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