Tag Archives: leonardo dicaprio

GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)

Once again, I find myself writing at two in the morning.  But when you don’t wake before noon, you’ll probably be awake (and in my case, busy) as your neighbors sleep.  While I’m proud of (and slightly dismayed by) my nocturnal tendencies, at least I’m well entertained.  I’m probably the most productive college student I know.

So, what did I just see?  Gangs of New York.  In brief, the film is an entertaining and lengthy period piece.  Covering a time span of twenty years, the film could effectively tell two or three stories, though it primarily focuses on one.  The characters are entertaining, the story brilliant, and the period piece element had me sold.

Now, while I could describe movies in brief, that’s not where I make my living.  So let’s get this party started.

THE GOOD

Bill Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) was easily the most impressive character through out the film, being the most dynamic in sympathies and anger.  His appearance is strange for the glass eye with the American eagle embedded within it and his choice of attire always attracts the eye for contrasting and/or vibrant color in relation to the background.  The acts he’s involved in solidify his character though.  His various murders and eventual execution are interesting to watch for their symbolism, ferocity, and simple visual extravagance.

Though I can’t say much for a character that lived for no more than five minutes in this film, I can say that Liam Neeson’s brief role was well cast.  The character of "Priest" Vallon embodies the normal standards to which we hold Neeson’s personas and seemed more than a fair foil to Bill the Butcher.

While I’m a regular fan of well-executed period pieces, this film earns particular mention for the scale to which it portrays the time we’re to be observing.  The recreation of 1860s New York was done excellently (coming as an ever greater surprise when one discovers it was filmed in Rome).  Furthermore, I believed the costuming was done well or, at the very least, drew my attention without upsetting me. 

Finally, a theme in this film, "Honor among enemies" strikes an interesting chord with me.  The way Amsterdam and Bill and Priest operate under this principle, contrasting with the various armies, creates an interesting perspective and possible message that this film is trying to illustrate.  Perhaps it’s that more was changing in the minds and hearts of the American public other than the issue of slavery.  

THE BAD

Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays the protagonist, Amsterdam Vallon, fits the unabashed standard for young Irishman  Plays the period piece well enough, but it’s obvious that he was mainly cast for his popularity.  The role could have been filled by any number of actors who can feign an Irish accent and, in comparison to Day-Lewis, his performance seemed subpar.

On the topic of poorly performing characters, Cameron Diaz’s character, Jenny Everdeane seemed awfully formulaic and of little importance other than a vehicle to forward the plot or provide a reprieve from the action in Five Points.  Jenny, being the pleasant thief who eventually becomes DiCaprio’s main squeeze is mainly passive in her effects on the story, simply making Amsterdam uncomfortable and caretaking until he is well enough to make another attempt on Bill’s life.

THE UGLY

The film, being almost three hours in length, can be a bit sprawling if one isn’t entirely absorbed by the story.  In Scorsese’s vision for such a fantastic film, there are explicit acts but much of the film is also implied, which brings the issue of certain elements of symbolism making the film seem over the top (i.e., Bill’s glass eye).  Finally, the relevant historical context they add to the film (draft riots and lynchings) complicates the final battle with further pandemonium and further extends the length of the film.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This review has taken me… something like sixty hours (probably sixty-five) to complete, so let’s wrap it up.  Gangs of New York is certainly a good film.  In some respects, historical authenticity and the acting of Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s a great film.  For these reasons, I admire Scorsese for his work and recommend this film for all attentive/historically-minded/mature audiences over the age of thirteen. (It seems an appropriate high school film.)

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