Gangs of New York
Film Review by Gregory Christiano
gets high marks as well as Sandy Powell’s costume designs which were thoroughly researched and reproduced.  Makeup deserves a curtain call also for attention to details like yellowed, rotting teeth and the disheveled appearance of most characters.
Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher is masterful.  He steals every scene.  All other actors, including Leonardo, pale whenever Day-Lewis is on the screen.  He plays the part with relish and unbounded energy.  With a scarred face, glass eye (the pupil of his left eye in the shape of a U.S. Eagle), upswept mustache, slicked-down hair, a dandy top hat and that wicked, self-satisfied smile, the character of Bill becomes a memorable villain. He is cold-blooded, ruthless, deadly.  Day-Lewis will certainly be nominated for an Oscar. Leonardo’s part, however, is curiously underwritten and a bit shallow.  He is a brooding, self-absorbed young man with little other emotions at play.  He has an all-consuming passion for revenge in the best tradition of a personal vendetta.  There are elements of rage, regret, dark humor, but little else.  Whereas Day-Lewis had a natural New York accent, Leonardo’s Irish brogue is non-existent.  There’s no discernable accent at all, not even a trace. After being introduced to Bill by his friend Johnny, Amsterdam falls into his good graces.  Bill has taken a shine to his young protégé.  As his relation with Bill grows more complex he becomes the son Bill never had.  This sets up a deep conflict of loyalties within the character of Amsterdam.  You sense a growing fondness and respect for his once menacing adversary.  But Amsterdam never loses his focus of vengeance.
The story begins in the winter of 1846 with a brutal confrontation about to take place between two neighborhood rival factions.  Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) leader of the Irish immigrant Dead Rabbits gang and William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) warlord of the Federation of American Natives.  Vallon’s young son Amsterdam accompanies him to Paradise Square where the two gangs face each other.  A ferocious battle ensues.  All manner of weapons are used, brick bats, clubs, swords, knives, brass knuckles, pikes and other home made devices.  The snow-covered plaza becomes soaked in the blood of the dead and wounded.  Priest Vallon is slain by his archenemy Bill the Butcher who now has become undisputed gang lord of the Points.  The bloodbath suddenly stops.  Bill proclaims victory.  Young Amsterdam is whisked off from his dead father’s side to Hellgate Orphanage where is reared and educated by Calvinists.
The story picks up in 1863, over fifteen years later, when the grown-up Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaves the institution and returns to the Five Points sworn to avenge his father’s death.  This is his one and only ambition.  He discovers nothing much has changed in the old neighborhood except many of his father’s comrades now work for his enemy William Cutting.  Hiding his true identity, Amsterdam meets an old boyhood friend Johnny (Henry Thomas).  Johnny is not fooled and recognizes Amsterdam immediately.  Their friendship rekindled, Johnny
William Marcy “Boss” Tweed as played by Jim Broadbent.
brings his friend up-to-date on the goings on in the area.
Johnny begins to describe the gangs that infest the Points, gangs like the Daybreak Boys and Swamp Angels who “work the river looting ships.”  The Frog Hollows who shanghai sailors, the Shirt Tails and Pug Uglies, the Little Forty Thieves, the Slaughter Housers and Broadway Twisters to name just a few.  Characters like Monk McGinn (Brendan Gleeson), a barber and off screen names like One-Lung Curran and Bendrick the Cockroach add to the flavor of the back alleys and dingy grog houses.  Vignettes in sepia tones were interspersed throughout this monologue to show each facet of this seedy nest of criminals.  It was a superb job of film technique and editing by the seasoned professional Thelma Schoonmaker.  Art direction by Alessandro Alberti and others also - all contents ©2003 unless otherwise indicated by The Composing Stack Inc. Movie stills © Miramax Film Corp.
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