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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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)
"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
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
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
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.
Here for Page Two of "Gangs of New York"
of New York'
rating:R, for intense violence, sexuality/nudity and language.
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
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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