Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: "Gangs of New York" Was the First Scorsese-DiCaprio Joint

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 4 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Gangs of New York (2002)
Running time: 167 minutes (2 hours, 47 minutes)
MPAA – R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
WRITERS: Jay Cocks, Steven Zallian, and Kenneth Lonergan; from a story by Jay Cocks
PRODUCERS: Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Ballhaus (director of photography)
EDITOR: Thelma Schoonmaker
COMPOSER: Howard Shore
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Lewis, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, and Larry Gilliard, Jr.

Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Gangs of New York begins in 1846 with a bloody battle between rival New York gangs that Scorsese films with enough majestic splendor and power to rival an epic battle in one of The Lord of the Rings films. This is an auspicious opening to a wonderful film that just happens to run on a little too long.

Young Amsterdam Vallon watches his father Priest (Liam Neeson, K-19: The Widowmaker), leader of the Irish Dead Rabbits, fall under the knife of William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, The Crucible), leader of the Nativists. The Nativists, whose parents and grandparents were Americans and who are white Anglo Saxon New Yorkers, look upon the new immigrants, especially the Irish, as foreign invaders, garbage whom must they must subjugate. Truthfully, they’re all poor folks living in the slums in filth and hunger.

In 1863, the adult Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic) emerges from a juvenile home ready to avenge his father’s death. He finds that many of his late father’s colleagues have joined ranks with Cutting’s gang and that Cutting now reveres Priest Vallon as the last great man. Amsterdam hides his identity and joins Cutting’s crew, where he becomes like a son to him, until Amsterdam’s identity is revealed and he has his first bloody confrontation with Cutting.

For most of Gangs, one can’t help but be taken in by the breathtaking and dazzling filmmaking, possible Scorsese’s most invigorating work since Goodfellas. Superb camerawork by Michael Ballhaus and excellent film editing by Thelma Schoonmaker (both long time Scorsese cohorts) combine their talents with the master’s brilliant sense of design, pacing, and storytelling to form a perfect film. Then, it suddenly goes on past the point where it should have ended – the first confrontation between Amsterdam and Bill the Butcher. Their continued rivalry isn’t boring, but some of other subplots that went with it seem extraneous.

The script, by former Scorsese collaborator Jay Cocks, the talented Steven Zallian (Academy Award winner for Schindler’s List), and Kenneth Lonergan (writer/director of the beautiful You Can Count on Me) is Shakespearean in its approach to character, plot, and dramatization. The story, however, tries to cover all the important national issues of 1863: The War Between the States, immigration, conscription, class conflict, ethnic conflict, racism, slavery, political corruption, police corruption, violence, hunger and poverty, religious conflict, and loyalty and how all these issues intermingle into further conflict. Sometimes, it all seems like so much crap thrown against the wall to see what sticks. All these subplots require a longer film, and Gangs is already two hours and 48 minutes long. This obese screen story is the blemish on what could have been a great film.

Still Scorsese tackles this beast of a script and turns it into a wonderful movie, in part because he draws some great performances from his cast. Day-Lewis is always a pleasure to watch, and he turns Cutting into a complex man worthy of everything between outright loathing and sincere admiration. DiCaprio is the youthful and seething hero and proves, once again, that the screen loves him; you can’t take your eyes off him. He’s the perfect movie star: dazzling, boyish beauty and talent to burn, but envy will deny him the accolades that Day-Lewis will get for this film. Other stellar performances include Cameron Diaz (stop hatin,’ she can really act), the chameleonic Jim Broadbent (always on his game), and Henry Thomas (all grown up since E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial). Gangs of New York is not to be missed; the only regret one can have is how close they all came to getting making perfect.

7 of 10

2003 Academy Awards: 10 nominations: “Best Picture” (Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein), “Best Director” (Martin Scorsese), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Daniel Day-Lewis), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Dante Ferretti-art director and Francesca Lo Schiavo-set decorator), “Best Cinematography” (Michael Ballhaus), “Best Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Editing” (Thelma Schoonmaker), “Best Music, Original Song” (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. for the song "The Hands That Built America"), “Best Sound” (Tom Fleischman, Eugene Gearty, and Ivan Sharrock), “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” (Jay Cocks-screenplay/story, Steven Zaillian-screenplay, and Kenneth Lonergan-screenplay)

2003 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Daniel Day-Lewis); 11 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Howard Shore), “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (R. Bruce Steinheimer, Michael Owens, Edward Hirsh, and Jon Alexander), “Best Cinematography” (Michael Ballhaus), “Best Costume Design” (Sandy Powell), “Best Editing” (Thelma Schoonmaker), “Best Film” (Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Manlio Rocchetti and Aldo Signoretti), “Best Production Design” (Dante Ferretti), “Best Screenplay – Original” (Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan), “Best Sound” (Tom Fleischman, Ivan Sharrock, Eugene Gearty, and Philip Stockton), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Martin Scorsese)

2003 Golden Globes: 2 wins: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Martin Scorsese) and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. for the song "The Hands That Built America"); 3 nominations “Best Motion Picture – Drama” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Daniel Day-Lewis), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Cameron Diaz)


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