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A.J.'s Rating: 5 American Stars
Gangs of New York
Directed By:  Martin Scorsese
Written By:  Jay Cocks
Starring:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent,
John C. Riley, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson
Rated:  R (intense violence, sexuality/nudity, strong language)
Running Time:  168 Min.
    Gangs of New York is the long-awaited historical drama directed by Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese spent over a year editing this film, whittling it from a running time of nearly four hours down to a mere two hours and 48 minutes.  That year was far from wasted though, since there is not a single wasted moment in this movie.  The perfectionist Mr. Scorsese strikes again!  This is not to say that Gangs of New York is perfect, but it comes mighty damn close. 
    Scorsese's passion for filmmaking excellence, along with his unerring attention to every gritty detail, combine to beautifully relate one of the uglier chapters of American history.  The story tells the true account of the New York draft riots of 1863; riots that left much of the city in ruins.  At the time, the Lincoln Administration's stand on immigration was basically, 'give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to fight and die for the Union Army.'  For $300, the wealthy could exempt themselves from having to go to war.  The huddled masses took exception to that.  In addition, this great influx of new immigrants into the country didn't sit well with the self-proclaimed natives of New York.  Not only did these foreigners refuse to fight for their new country, they also stole jobs away from real Americans!  As a result, the city soon found itself divided along both ethnic and socio-economic lines.  The manditory drafting of those who could not afford to buy their ways out of military service was the fatal spark that ignited this tinderbox of humanity.
    Now that's enough story for any movie, and I haven't even mentioned any of the fictional subplots yet!  Gangs of New York also gives us plenty of political corruption, personal revenge, rousing action, some humor, and yes, even a bit of romance.  Believe it or not, the mix works. 
    As for acting, it seems that Daniel Day-Lewis has been lured out of his semi-retirement just to win this year's Oscar for Best Actor.  His bigger-than-life performance as William Cutting, leader of the 'Natives' gang, is absolutely brilliant.  Also, playing the vengeful young Amsterdam Vallon and showing that he can choose decent roles when he wants to, is Leonardo DiCaprio.  Leo proves here that he can act along with the best of them. 
    One minor area where Gangs of New York nearly falters is when Scorsese resorts to using still-frame images of newspaper headlines and illustrations to tell parts of the story, a technique more befitting a Ken Burns documentary than a feature film.  Some may also notice a slight lull one third of the way into the film, but remember, a lot has to happen before all hell breaks loose!  And, speaking of hell breaking loose, I should mention that this movie also offers an incredible amount of graphic, brutal violence.  Consider yourself warned!
    About once a year, I see a movie so good that I immediately want to go back and watch again.  Last year it was Memento.  This year it's Gangs of New York.  I'm predicting nine Oscar nominations, and five wins.
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Review published
December 28, 2002
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