Think about the wild west set in New York. Instead of cowboys and indians there are Irish and Italians. Throw in some conflict with the Civil War and you’ve got Gangs in New York.
The film starts with young Amsterdam (no older than eight) watching his father, the Priest (Liam Neeson), die at the hand of Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a huge street battle against the Italians. With his father dead and the Five Points area ruled by the Butcher, Amsterdam is sent away to get an education and returns sixteen years later during the midst of the Civil War. Luckily, hardly anyone recognizes Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), except his old pal Johnny (Henry Thomas) and his father’s loyal friend, Monk (Brendan Gleeson). The Butcher takes Amsterdam under his wing, unaware of his identity. Amsterdam wants revenge on the Butcher, but you know the saying, friends close enemies closer.
I know I’ve said this before, but one of my favorite things about a Scorsese film is the epic violence, and Gangs is no exception. The beginning battle where the Priest dies really sets the tone, telling the audience that there will be blood. (Ha! Sorry, Daniel Day-Lewis joke.) When we know a film isn’t afraid to spill it and let it flow, that can set up some amazing tension for later in the film.
The knife throwing scene streatches the tension to agonizing lengths. By this point in the film, we’re aware of the bloodshed the Butcher is capable of and he’s powerful enough to get away with anything. He can make the line “Whoopsie daisy!” absolutely frightening. With every knife flung and then clapped into the wood our adrinaline pulses more. We’re thinking it could be the next knife, or the next that he hurls straight into some fragile flesh. You almost wish it would happen already, and that’s what makes it riviting and brilliant.
Gangs of New York had a god ten nominations on Oscar night, but came home empty handed, and I’ve got to agree. While it is good and deserves the recognition, it isn’t the best. The story is engaging enough, everything is visually well done and Daniel-Day Lewis knows how to steal the show with his volatile ruthlessness, but next to the competition Gangs just comes up short.
I don’t want to diss this film, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It looks cool, feels cool and doesn’t bog you down. If you’re looking for a wild west feel with a look at New York during the Civil War, look no further. Scorsesse, DiCaprio or Day Lewis fans need to pick this up. For those who enjoy an old fashioned bloody time, you’ve gotta see this.
“It’s a funny feeling being taken under the wing of a dragon. It’s warmer than you’d think.”