Editor’s Note: Since Lincoln’s coming to theaters soon, I thought I’d review a few of Daniel Day Lewis’ movies. I wrote a review on There Will Be Blood a while ago so I now decided to turn my attention to Gangs of New York.
If you’ve followed my blog long enough you probably know that Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors of all time. He’s made plenty of classics, like Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and Taxi Driver. Gangs of New York is far from being in the same league as these films, and is one of Scorsese’s weaker movies.
Gangs of New York takes place New York City during the 19th century. The film opens up with a battle between the Dead Rabbits, made of Irish Americans, and the Nativists, who are an American born gang. The leader of the Dead Rabbits, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), is killed by William Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis), who is more commonly known as “Bill the Butcher.” Cutting’s son Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) then enters an orphanage and by the time he’s in his 20s seeks revenge against Bill.
Gangs of New York, like many of Scorsese’s films, is long, stretching to nearly three hours. But unlike many of Scorsese’s movie, Gangs of New York feels long. The pacing of the movie is its weakest element.
The movie has some great art direction but unfortunately this does not benefit the film to a great degree. While they’re visually impressive, they distract the viewer from the movie’s central message.
Compare it to GoodFellas for example. GoodFellas is also long, about 2 and a half hours, but is far more intriguing. It allows the viewer to enter into the shoes of the characters and to not only see but feel their emotions. Gangs of New York, however, is more stilted. It isn’t as fleshed out or as absorbing as GoodFellas. This may seem to be an unfair point, since GoodFellas is one of the greatest films ever made, but we expect a director as powerful as Scorsese to be more consistent.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. While there are many flaws in Gangs of New York, there is also one great strength: Daniel Day Lewis. Lewis is, at least in my opinion, the best actor currently working right now and he really dives into any role he plays. As Bill the Butcher he gives one of his best performances and adds much of the film’s intensity. Lewis was nominated for an Oscar for his role, which was very well deserved.
So while Gangs of New York isn’t a great film, it isn’t bad either. I’d label it as a disappointment. It’s worth seeing for Lewis but not much for anything else.