Martin Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK, which was supposed to have opened last
Christmas, finally opened on this one. A rambling, bloated, would-be epic, it's
more vaudeville theater than it is a serious movie. They could cut an hour out
of this almost three hour film, and you'd never know the difference. The
expensive sets reek authenticity, and the movie is so over the top and silly,
that you'll find yourself thinking of the sets as a prototype for a new Gangland
area of Disneyland.
The movie's opening looks like WEST SIDE STORY as choreographed by Hieronymus
Bosch. In this initial "dustup" -- the movie is filled with so much period
lingo that you'll want a Berlitz guide -- Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) is killed
by Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis). After the battle is over, Bill tells
his gang, "Ears and noses shall be the trophies of the day." Bill orders that
the name of Vallon's losing gang, the "Dead Rabbits," will never again be
spoken. Vallon's son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), grows up and returns to
become Bill's right-hand man, while secretly planning to kill him.
Day-Lewis and DiCaprio both deliver excellent performances, and it's not because
of them that the movie is never able to connect with its audience. Day-Lewis
appears so gaunt and long-legged that you'll swear he's on stilts. His large
stove pipe hat and his big mustache reinforce the aforementioned vaudeville
The dialog alternates between the outrageous and the pretentious. "It wasn't a
city really," Amsterdam lectures us in voice-over. "It was a furnace where
later a city would be forged."
Cameron Diaz plays Jenny Everdeane, a pickpocket -- which, of course, was called
something else entirely back then. My favorite scene of hers is a pseudo-erotic
one in which she agrees to let Amsterdam feel her scars if he'll let her feel
his. Both actors somehow manage to keep straight faces during this episode,
although I bet there are a lot of outtakes in which they couldn't.
The emotionally inert film ends in a long orgy of gratuitous violence. But,
since Scorsese never creates any genuine characters, I couldn't have cared less
about who lived and who died.
GANGS OF NEW YORK runs a ridiculously long 2:48. It is rated R for "intense
strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language" and would be acceptable for
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes