Gangs of New York
Film Review by Gregory Christiano
whole territory is a fist.  I can turn it against you.”  Tweed gets the picture.
The backdrop of the Civil War adds to the tension of an already explosive city.  The government makes every effort to recruit more soldiers.  The Conscription Act had just been passed in January of 1863 to fill the depleted ranks of the Union Army.  The military was hard at work recruiting immigrants right off the boat with a promise of instant citizenship in exchange for military service.  Recruiters were on the docks greeting the new arrivals at tables set up for enlistment.  Recruiter: “That document makes you a citizen.  This one makes you a private in the Union Army.  Now go fight for your country.”  While newly enlisted privates boarded the transport ships in the harbor, coffins of fallen soldiers were being off-loaded onto the docks.  The draft act favored those who had $300 to buy their way out of service.  This left the poor and middle class with no alternative but to
be called up.  This situation sets the final stage of the story.
When Amsterdam’s true identity is revealed, a showdown with Bill is inevitable.  The young Vallon rallies his forces and resurrects the disbanded Dead Rabbits to face the Butcher for supremacy of the Five Points.  As the inescapable final battle approaches the already volatile city heats up and a riot breaks out on July 13th in front of the draft office on the morning of the lottery.  The mobs ransack the city, setting fires to buildings, looting, torturing and lynching blacks and wealthy New Yorkers.  Anarchy ruled for four days.  Troops and warships had to be summoned to help the overburdened police restore order. The film takes us deep into the fabric of the neighborhood, the lost history and what life was like in those years.  It is truly an epic tale in the tradition of Homer mixed with Christian mythology and Dickensian darkness.
Along the way Amsterdam meets pickpocket Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz).  Her role is rather weak and incidental.  She is more of a love interest for Amsterdam than a vital part of the story.  Jenny was raised by Bill but soon falls in love with Leonardo.  There is no love triangle here as you might expect.  Instead Bill’s relationship with Jenny is merely perfunctory.  He has no interest at all.  Jenny becomes simply a plot device, a foil for the characters of Bill and Amsterdam to interact with each other.
William Marcy “Boss” Tweed is played brilliantly and with extra gusto by Jim Broadbent.  He is perfectly cast for the role by Ellen Lewis, the casting director.  Broadbent bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Tweed in both facial features and his portly stature.  Tweed is a likeable scoundrel whose interaction with Bill the Butcher and later with Amsterdam is one of flagrant corruption.  Here is corrupt urban politics at its best.  Tweed sees every shady endeavor as an opportunity for profit, relying on his motto “Fortune Favors the Bold.”  Where Bill sees immigrants as trespassers and stealing jobs, Tweed sees them as a potential voting block.  He bribes officials and local gang leaders.  He says “The appearance of the law must be upheld, especially when it’s being broken.”  But Bill the Butcher has most of the good lines.  He reminds Tweed who rules the Five Points…”Each of the Five Points is a finger, and when I close my hand the
Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), backed by a few friends, adopts a menacing stance. - all contents ©2003 unless otherwise indicated by The Composing Stack Inc. Movie stills © Miramax Film Corp.
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