I saw Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when it first hit theaters.
I remember that I liked plenty about it, but felt that ultimately it did not deliver the goods.
I hadn’t watched it since, but I saw the Bluray for less than $10 so I figured I’d pick it up. It’s just as I remembered. I liked plenty about it, but felt that ultimately it did not deliver the goods.
Where does it fall short?
I remember hating the accents from DiCaprio and Diaz, upon rewatching I actually retract that criticism. The fact that we don’t know what their accents really would have sounded like (being a “transitional” generation between immigrant and American) makes it easy enough for me to just accept the accents the actors are using.
DiCaprio’s performance isn’t great, but it’s good. I’d say the same thing about Diaz- though I may knock her down from “good” to “adequate”. Daniel Day Lewis’s performance is awesome, possibly the best thing about the movie (easily the best performance) yet the awesome performance does not elevate the other elements.
I really think it’s just not a very good script. It’s ultimately a simple revenge drama- DiCaprio’s character has one simple unwavering motivation throughout so any attempts in the storytelling to fashion a Hamlet-like paralysis just come off as fabricated and get in the way. Why all the pretense in what ought to be a simple revenge drama? I think it’s clear that Scorsese and the trio of screenwriters were desperately trying not to make a simple revenge drama. They were aiming for allegory. This was not to simply be the story of Amsterdam Vallon and Bill the Butcher, this was to be a story about America, a story about America growing up and taking form, maturing and coming out in a way that made turning back the tide impossible.
So much of how the story is delivered makes me feel like I’m watching something that is supposed to be a grand allegory but it simply does not deliver.
Also to the script’s discredit: think about how great a character Bill the Butcher is, think about how awesome Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is, now think of all Bill the Butcher’s best quotable lines. There really aren’t any. There are pretty much no memorable lines or scenes of dialog from this movie at all. Imagine Daniel Day Lewis as that character with some actual words to wrap his mouth around. That may have been too much awesomeness to handle!
Scorsese spent 30 years, 30 years, developing this movie. I think the problem was that he knew so passionately that he wanted to do a film in this setting but he just never came up with a story to go in that setting. He handles the setting beautifully. The actual set pieces are full-on masterpieces. He does and excellent job of conveying just how very divided the whole country was about the Civil War- that it was not simply a North/South divide. But he doesn’t really succeed in telling a story about America.
Anyway, I’ve only just now watched it for the second time in 10 years. I’ll be interested in what others here have to say.