Main cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Amsterdam Vallon), Daniel Day-Lewis (William ‘Bill the Butcher’ Cutting), Cameron Diaz (Jenny Everdeane), Liam Neeson (“Priest” Vallon), Jim Broadbent (William ‘Boss’ Tweed), John C Reilly (Happy Jack), Henry Thomas (Johnny Sirocco), and Brendan Gleeson (Monk McGinn)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Gangs of New York should be a critical shoo-in: it has Martin Scorsese at the helm and the always mesmerizing Daniel Day-Lewis in his rare cinematic venture. It is a labor of love 30 years in the making, and the three-year on-set soap opera is amusing. But the movie, however, is a tedious, underbaked, and predictable street drama that is more flashy than substantial.
I don’t know why they are fighting, but in the 1800s, two New York gangs Dead Rabbits and Native Americans hate each other. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson, every period epics must have Liam Neeson) leads the Dead Rabbits while Bill the Butcher leads the Native Americans. They fight, and Bill the Butcher ends up butchering Priest like the dead rabbit the latter is, all in front of Priest’s brat. Sixteen years later, the brat grows up to look like that boy from Titanic. And here is where the lame trite plot devices start. Amsterdam Vallon, the brat, befriends Bill only to stick it to him in the back after stealing the obligatory gangsta moll (played wide-eyed and devoid of any imagination by Cameron Diaz). It all leads to the obligatory violent confrontations masked as some faux patriotic nonsense.
Every lame plot device typical of these kinds of movie is in here plus a few more crammed in the kitchen sink. With so much focus on the costumes and props and choreographed violence, Mr Scorsese lets the character development decay by the wayside. The relationship between Bill and Amsterdam seems forced and formulaic and let’s not go to the stereotypical relationship between Amsterdam and Jenny Everdeane. Factor in Mr Day-Lewis’s cringe-inducing hammy acting, Ms Diaz’s non-acting (unless you consider her opening her eyes as wide as she could like a junkie on the highway to overdose “acting”), and Mr DiCaprio’s lackluster screen presence, and Gangs of New York is like Mr Scorsese’s expensive vanity project. Then again, when did this man last come out with a decent movie anyway?
If I am to walk down the neo-noir videos from Korea and Japan, I’d easily find ten movies that can portray male bonding over guns and violence much better than this expensive but ineffectual movie. What’s good about Gangs of New York? The scenery, definitely, but not much else in this formulaic Oliver Twist of Gunsmoke Monte Cristo melodrama.