The film begins in 1846 in the district of Five Points in New York. There's a war between American-born residents who call themselves "the natives" and a gang of Irish immigrants, the Dead Rabbits, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). Right before the eyes of Amsterdam, Priest Vallon's little son, Bill "The Butcher" (Daniel Day-Lewis) Cutting kills Priest Vallon. As a result of that, this puts an end to the war between "the natives" and the Dead Rabbits.
Sixteen years later, after he had been sent to an orphanage, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to Five Points in order to avenge his father's death. Like many people in the district, he ends up working for Bill "The Butcher" Cutting who doesn't know anything about Amsterdam's link to Priest Vallon. As time goes by, Amsterdam gains the trust of Bill, who comes to regard him as a son. However, when Amsterdam's eventual attempt to kill Bill is foiled, it renews the gang war in Five Points.
Obviously, Gangs of New York makes you want to say "been there, done that". Indeed, the film is structured like any stories of revenge that Hollywood churns out and as if it wasn't enough, we already knows who - between Amsterdam and Bill - will die at the end. In all fairness, the relation between Amsterdam and Bill makes this film a little easier to digest. In fact, this small complexity shows that one has to do things against their own principles in order to achieve their own goal.
However, the script is full of problems. First of all, the love story between Jenny and Amsterdam is completely contrived. Secondly, the film diverts from the story (Amsterdam's revenge) by trying to heavily document the social and political life in New York. For instance, we get to know that firefighting used to be a competition between private companies, policing was in its infancy back in these days, mayor William "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent) was corrupted or that poor New Yorkers were infuriated by the military drafting because they couldn't pay a $300 discharge fee. Obviously, there's no doubt these details are historically accurate, Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, the scriptwriters, forgot that the film isn't a documentary.
In short, Gangs of New York is definitely the most overrated film I've ever seen. In fact, it's too long and it lacks focus. While the film can definitely rely on the unsullied performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, the only things that were truly worth watching on the DVD are the special features in the end.
|Screenplay:||Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan|
|Starring:||Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz|