Gangs of New York (2002)

gangs of new york poster 2002 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking and great performance by Daniel Day-Lewis

Cameron Diaz miscast, the story is less interesting the the actual history

Movie Info

Movie Name: Gangs of New York

Studio:  Miramax/Initial Entertainment Group (IEG)/Alberto Grimaldi Productions

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  December 9, 2002 (Premiere)/December 20, 2002 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

gangs of new york amsterdam leonardo dicaprio church

Vengeance is coming!

The war for the Five Points has been raging for years, and when “Priest” Vallon (Liam Neeson) is slayed by William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), his young son (Cian McCormack) goes into hiding.  Years later, “Amsterdam” (Leonardo DiCaprio) has come to New York to seek revenge and the younger Vallon has embedded himself with Bill and his men in an attempt to avenge his father at the right moment.  Amsterdam proves to be a loyal assistant to Bill and also finds himself involved with pickpocket and thief Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz).  As Amsterdam observes the politics of the Five Points, a danger is rumbling…and things will explode.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York is a historic drama.  Following Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead in 1999, the film is a fictional story that used the non-fiction 1927 book by Herbert Asbury as its basis.  The film was tied up in production for decades, and its 2001 release was delayed due to 9-11.  The film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Original Song (“The Hands that Built America”), but the film received no awards.

gangs of new york amsterdam jenny leonardo dicaprio cameron diaz

Let’s just keep dancing so I don’t have to try to use an accent…

The hype surrounding Gangs of New York was big.  There were talks about the project that Scorsese has tried to make for decades, and how big and brash it would be.  While Gangs of New York does deliver on a lot of fronts, it sometimes feels that it is too big for itself.

The problem is kind of tied to the storyline.  There is a lot of interesting historical things in Gangs of New York involving politics, immigration, the state of the United States at the time, and true events like the Civil War draft riots (July 13, 1863-July 16, 1863), and they are mixed with a so-so story of revenge.  Bill the Butcher (based on William Poole July 24, 1821-March 8, 1855) is a great character, but he’s put in a film that doesn’t utilize him well.

The acting also is mixed.  The film went through years of possible casting from 1978 to its release which included actors like Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Mel Gibson, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Hanks for the two main leads, but both Leonardo DiCaprio, and Daniel Day-Lewis eat up their scenes (Bill’s blasting of immigrants feels like it was stolen by recent politicians).  Casting for Jenny was a miss with Cameron Diaz who struggled in the film (others considered for her included Sarah Polley and Sarah Michelle Gellar).  The film also has appearances by Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, Henry Thomas, Stephen Graham, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Brendan Gleeson, and David Hemmings.

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Bill the Butcher is larger than life

The movie does look great.  The film has a gritty and grimy New York which of course was on the minds of everyone in the years following 9-11.  The film presents a New York made up of tons of different people…but even then separated by class and country.  The last few shots of the film showing the transition to modern day (including the Twin Towers) makes a nice connection to the current day…but the New York of Bill the Butcher would be unrecognizable to him today.

Gangs of New York has its moments and for the most part is a good, movie, but its length, Cameron Diaz’s role as Jennifer, and the overriding aspect of the history being more interesting than the actual story hurts the overall presentation.  It is pretty representative of Scorsese’s work but it also isn’t his best.  Scorsese followed Gangs of New York with The Aviator in 2004.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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