Review of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York

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Martin Scorsese's latest film, Gangs of New York is a failed anti-war film. It is 165 minutes of some of the most violent footage ever seen in a film intended for mainstream entertainment. As a fan of Scorsese's, I have to say that even the brutality of Good Fellas could not have prepared me for the assault that is the experience of watching this film. Even leaving aside the violence, I admit that I am mystified by all the hoopla surrounding Gangs of New York. Leonardo Di Caprio only slightly adapts the role he had in Titanic. Now instead of a sweet Irish immigrant, he is a nasty one. Cameron Diaz appears to have thought the Irish accent was optional, as it fades in and out about every fifth word. For his part, Daniel Day-Lewis looks and sounds too much like Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo to be truly convincing.

Worse, the film is so thematically confusing that it is at first not clear what Scorsese is trying to say. To be sure the choice of material is worthy. The plight of working class immigrants in 19th century New York City, and the Draft Riots of 1863 have, to my knowledge, been given no filmic attention. Even more intriguing are the possibilities inherent in Scorsese's observations about the interplay between the nativist sentiments embodied in Daniel Day-Lewis' character, Bill the Butcher, and the corruption of the US government. Taking place as it does during the American Civil War when Boss Tweed held New York City in his grip, the film's setting certainly provides ample opportunity for some reflections on these important topics. In fact, I think the message of this film is as disturbing as the way it is told. It would seem that Scorsese intended to make a film that was anti-war, but ended up with one that is anti-government and anti-law.

In brief, Gangs of New York is the story of two rival gangs, one "nativist" lead by Bill the Butcher. The other, a group of Irish immigrants called "The Dead Rabbits" initially lead by a man called "The Priest...
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