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Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon
Daniel Day-Lewis as William Cutting, a.k.a 'Bill 'The Butcher'
Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane
Jim Broadbent as William 'Boss' Tweed
John C. Reilly as Happy Jack
Henry Thomas as Johnny Sirocco
Liam Neeson as 'Priest' Vallon
Brendan Gleeson as Walter 'Monk' McGinn
Gary Lewis as McGloin
Stephen Graham as Shang
Eddie Marsan as Killoran
Alec McCowen as Rev. Raleigh
David Hemmings as Mr. Schermerhorn
Larry Gilliard Jr. as Jimmy Spoils
Cara Seymour as Hell-Cat Maggie
Costume Design Featurette
Set Design Featurette
History of the Five Points Featurette
Exploring the sets of Gangs Of New York with Multiple Angles utilizing 360 Degree Shots of the Sets
U2 Music Video “The Hands That Built America”
Discovery Channel Special “Uncovering The Real Gangs Of New York”
The Five Points Story Guide: Luc Sante Introduction And Five Points Vocabulary
Feature Commentary by Martin Scorsese
Widescreen (2.35:1) – Enhanced for 16x9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
French Language Track
Running Time: 167 Minutes
During the Civil War, corrupt politicians, crooked cops, and numerous violent gangs run New York City. William Cutting, a.k.a 'Bill 'The Butcher', is the leader of a gang of people calling themselves “native Americans”. They are Anglos born in America who despise the large number of Irish immigrants flooding into the country. Bill controls the slums of New York centered around an area called “Five Points”.
Bill takes in a new hoodlum by the name of Amsterdam. He becomes close with the young lad and shows him the ways of running the gang. Little does he know that the boy is Amsterdam Vallon, the son of a priest and rival Irish gang leader who he killed 16 years earlier. Amsterdam has vowed to kill Bill and has infiltrated his gang in order to do so. He plots for the right moment to do so, but along the way he finds his resolve tested by his friends, a new respect for Bill, and his love for the pickpocket Jenny Everdeane.
“Gangs Of New York” is rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.
I saw this movie when it was first released and I enjoyed it. Upon watching it again on DVD, I still enjoyed it. It’s an epic tale of a young man out for revenge that is set against a piece of history which most people aren’t familiar with. It’s a Shakespearean kind of story where we see the death of a father and a young son returning for vengeance. Like Titanic, it’s a fictional story set against a real historical event.
Scorsese picks an interesting setting for his story in New York City of the Civil War era. While most people focus on the battles in the South at the time, the strife and culture elsewhere is often overlooked. In this movie you learn about the various gangs in the city such as the Dead Rabbits, Bowery Boys, and Plug Uglies. You discover a different kind of racism at the time, not only against blacks but against Irish. The full corruption of the politicians is vividly depicted as you see Boss Tweed conspiring with the gangs and buying votes. It’s also amazing to see just how the democratic process was sabotaged. Men would go in and vote, leave, and then vote again repeatedly. They ended up with more votes than citizens in the elections. Most shocking of all is seeing American ships firing on their own city in order to break up riots. It’s a bit of history that I’m sure most people aren’t familiar with.
The cast of this film is superb. Cameron Diaz really steps up to bat and holds her own against her strong co-stars. As much as people hate pretty boy Leonardo DiCaprio, I think he’s a fantastic actor. You totally believe him to be a street thug when you see him in this role. He rises from a lowly orphan to the leader of the Irish in New York City and you buy all of it. However, the real star of the show is Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill The Butcher. Though Lewis seems to be slightly crazy in real life, he’s probably one of the best actors alive today. He totally immerses himself in the role of Bill and he would be almost unrecognizable if you didn’t know it was him. From the accent to the ego to the racism, he really brings the character to life. I really thought he deserved an Academy Award for his performance. A first rate supporting cast including Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, and Brendan Gleeson round things out.
The sets in the movie are spectacular. You really feel you are immersed in old New York City. The music is, for the most part, good. There’s an exotic blending of orchestral score, folk music, and more. However, the occasional rock music in a fight scene or in the finale really pulls you out of the setting.
As good as the movie is, it has some problems. Besides the rock music, there’s a lot of harsh violence. It may be necessary to depict the brutal times, but it may turn the stomachs of some viewers. If you don’t like the sight of blood, avoid this film. There’s also some nudity that seemed a bit gratuitous. And at almost three hours in running time, it is a bit long. Overall though, it’s an interesting piece of filmmaking.
For a two-disc set, this DVD is surprisingly light on the extras. While it has your standard commentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes, it is blatantly lacking in interviews with the cast. There are some interviews with Day-Lewis, Neeson, DiCaprio, and Diaz, but these are included within the featurettes about the costumes and sets. While intriguing, I’m sure there are more interesting things for them to talk about. I got the distinct feeling that material exists showing more behind the scenes footage and interviews, but it’s being saved for a special edition disc or something at a later date.
Here are some highlights of the extras that are included on the DVD:
Costume Design Featurette – This discusses the elaborate costumes in the film. While you might not notice them upon viewing the movie, this featurette points out the great thought that went into making them. It really was quite an achievement and it made me appreciate the costumes more. They talk about the differences in costumes between the upper and lower class, the bright colors used, and how some of the costumes departed slightly from reality.
Set Design Featurette – An incredibly huge set was made for this movie in Italy. It seems as if they really did recreate old New York. They discuss the research they did on it, how it was constructed, and more. In a time where everyone uses blue screen for virtual sets, it makes you appreciate just how much an elaborate, detailed set can add to the feel of a movie.
History of the Five Points Featurette – The cast, crew, and a few historians talk about the real life history behind the film. While this is interesting, the Discovery Channel special also included on this disc goes into much greater detail and is of more interest to history buffs. This featurette shows much more of the cast, though, than any other feature.
Exploring the sets of Gangs Of New York with Multiple Angles utilizing 360 Degree Shots of the Sets – Scorsese and his set designer take you on a walk-through tour of the large film set. As they walk through everything, they discuss the research they did, the benefits and challenges of filming on the set, and more. It’s incredible how detailed this set is and this video makes you really appreciate it. It really feels like you’ve got the director giving you a personal tour. As you watch this, you can occasionally hit a button and get a full 360-degree view of the set. It’s a neat gimmick, but the fish-eye lens distorts the view a bit too much to make anything out of it.
U2 Music Video “The Hands That Built America” – I like U2 OK enough, but this music video didn’t do much for me. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the song and the music video features numerous clips from the film.
Discovery Channel Special “Uncovering The Real Gangs Of New York” – As far as I was concerned, this was the real highlight of the extras. Historians discuss what New York was really like back then and they tell you just how much of the movie was factual. Showing etchings, photographs, and more, this documentary not only covers what was shown in the movie, but beyond it as well. It discusses the origins of the gangs, the full extent of Boss Tweed’s corruption, details of the draft, and the timeline of the riots. If you’ve seen Gangs Of New York before, you may want to watch this documentary before watching it again. It gives you a greater appreciation for the historical aspects of the film.
Feature Commentary by Martin Scorsese – Scorsese delivers an interesting commentary. He talks extensively about the making of the film, how he came up with the idea of making the book into a movie, and more. He of course discusses the historical aspects of the movie as well as bringing Daniel Day-Lewis on board. Though he has some long periods where he says nothing at all, he keeps things somewhat interesting. You may get more out of watching the featurettes, though.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, it’s an interesting film worth checking out. It has some excellent acting, a beautiful setting, and an intriguing historical backdrop that history buffs will thoroughly enjoy. DVD collectors may be disappointed by the lack of extras, though.