Gangs Of New York (2002)

(In theaters, December 2002) I don’t worship at the altar of Martin Scorsese, but after seeing what he did with this script, I’m now quite willing to attend the occasional get-together. Gangs Of New York is a sumptuous re-creation of a fascinating historical period, when the infamous Boss Tweed’s Tamany Hall reigned over a city that actually deserved its corruption. Immigrants against so-called natives, rich against poor; if America was born in the streets (as the film’s tagline suggests), then it had a difficult gestation. This story is your good old revenge plot, as a son vows to avenge his murdered father. This 1860ish New York is grimy, lively and completely alien to us, as firefighters fight it out for the right to loot a house and gangs can hack at each other in complete impunity. Leonardo DeCaprio fares well in a good bad-boy role, but he pales in comparison to Daniel Day-Lewis, who delivers a great performance as an oddly endearing villain. The film is worth seeing more for the direction and the historical re-creation than for the rather simple story: cinema geeks will love it for the pleasure of seeing a true artist move a camera around, with plenty of budget to realize his vision. The abruptly political ending is initially hard to swallow (it doesn’t help that it cheats us of a dramatic climax after a long buildup), but it does make a point. Who even remembered such events taking place in New York City? Dust those history books…

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