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"Gangs of New York"

Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Written by Jay Cocks ("Strange Days"), Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis. 
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  1/5/03


Ever since this cast signed on the line three years ago (actually, a little longer than that in some cases), I have been pumped for “Gangs of New York.”  Martin Scorsese’s period epic was bumped a full year due to re-cutting and re-scoring issues and the refined product is worth the wait.

Set mostly in the Manhattan of 1862, “Gangs of New York” is apparently a mostly-true account of how it was back in those days as different cultures fought out their differences on the streets for superiority.  For most of our in-film journey, we follow Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), a 20-something Irish kid just released from a prison two hours from the city who gets back to New York following a 16-year absence.  He hooks up with the unofficial town kingpin, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), to serve as an errand boy and assistant while learning about what’s happening in Manhattan from the top.  Along the way, he meets a love interest (Cameron Diaz, fresh from her look in “Being John Malkovich”) who is a pickpocket...and possibly a love interest for The Butcher as well.

That’s the overview, but the plot is much deeper than that, as Jay Cocks (the film’s original story concept writer) and Scorsese take us through much of the politics of the time as well as briefly profiling some of the gangs that existed in the period.  Most of this is seen with a pretty gritty lens, so if you have seen other Scorsese films before, don’t be too shocked at the number of violent deaths, profanities and vulgarities that spill out on screen over the course of the 160-minute running time.

Besides the great storyline to “Gangs of New York”, the performances are fantastic but it is Day-Lewis who shines the brightest.  From the bulging veins in his neck to the slyly-profane dialogue to the burning eyes to the mustache, Day-Lewis is maybe more of a presence than in any of the films that I have seen him in previously...he’s just scary here because of his unpredictable nature.  Normally, I don’t dig Diaz but she is good for the part here and DiCaprio is strong in his first film in a while.  The support by the trillions of extras is great and bit parts featuring Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent and Henry Thomas are under strong direction as well.

But, for all of this, “Gangs of New York” didn’t feel like anything extraordinary.  Its themes of corruption didn’t feel all that fresh—even if they held my attention, the romance is predictable and the gang faceoffs that bookend the film were good, they were violent, but they weren’t special.  Save for Day-Lewis (it would be shameful to see him NOT nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), these roles could be filled with others and probably be played well.

Still, “Gangs of New York” is worthy of nighttime prices.  It’s just not a classic.

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09