Why does "Gangs of New York" fall short of being a great movie? Or your counter-arguments?

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.

Too rambling.

Not enough exposition about the NYC of the 1840s-1860s.

The characters were too polarized; watching it you’d think everybody who lived there was either rich or “You lived in a hollow shell of a building with 3,000 other immigrants? Luxury! We lived in a hollowed out horse carcass with a dead whore as a roof, and that’s when we could afford it!” impoverished immigrant. Bill the Butcher is presumably rich by the standards of Five Points and even he lives in near squalor.

Too much presentism.

Too long.

Presumably this is an open spoiler thread, but if not

Open Spoilers

There’s a scene in which Cameron Diaz’s character undresses enough to reveal she has had a botched C-section. She also has washboard abs. This sets off a chain reaction of “taking you out of the moments”, and while that’s a particularly egregious one there were lots of moments like that which just rang false.

The only hope I had for the movie, being as I am disinclined to enjoy Scorsese’s, DiCaprio’s, and Diaz’s works in general, was for Day-Lewis to be worth watching.

Alas, while there are many parts that a guy like Day-Lewis could make superbly over-the-top, IMHO Bill the Butcher was just a lot of scenery-chewing with a top hat. His whole group looked like one of the gangs from The Warriors.

Scorsese is severely over-rated. I saw it with low expections, which he met.

The East was wilder than the West. That’s a point that I’m willing to accept and would love to sit in a theater and move around in that world.

Daniel Day Lewis, like a good Western hero or villan, played it larger than life. Everybody else though? Some hits there but more misses.

So what would John Ford have done? Obviously, he would have Irished the living fuck out of it, but he’d also cut what didn’t serve. Plenty of room for humor and sentimentality and big themes, but avoiding what John Huston called the metaphysical shithouse.

I remember the movie had a lot of interesting things but:

1, the casting of Leonardo turned it into a farce in some ways. He seems like a kid playing dress up, nowhere near the same league as his “nemesis” Daniel Day Lewis. Same deal with Cameron Diaz. It felt like they were going for the teen audience first and foremost.

2, There were too many faux-symbolic sequences intended to “teach a lesson about America”, which made it seem like the story couldn’t stand on its own and speak for itself. That kind of stuff might go over better with overseas audiences.

I can’t take Leonardo DiCaprio seriously in anything other than ‘Catch Me if you Can’.

I don’t remember much about the movie, which means it was meh to me. From what I do remember:

For a movie about draft riots that really had racism at its core (“We ain’t fightin’ to free no…”) there were painfully few African American characters. I think the only black character had no lines, or am I misremebering? Anyway, the movie left out a whole dimension of history by doing that.

Some of the fight scenes used jerky fast motion. Trying to be stylistic, I suppose. But it really just looked stupid.

Leonardo DiCaprio just flat out sucked. Period. I do not see the appeal of that guy.

I had written out a bunch of things, but ultimately, its like a lot of loose parts hung together. Individually, they’re interesting, but together, they’re just a big mess.

A similar thing that bugged me (and, I think, lends some credence to LC Strawhouse’s first observation) is when DiCaprio gets a hot poker jammed in his face. Plot wise, this was done specifically to “mess up his good looks,” but the makeup effect they used to show the burn didn’t look messed up at all. It looked like he’d fallen asleep at his desk with his face resting on a paperweight. Aside from robbing the scene of the branding of a lot of its emotional weight (since the result was so mild), it made it feel like the film was prioritizing having a pretty face in the lead above dramatic and realistic concerns.

Yep, all of that.

I’d also add that the opening street fight set an insanely great tone and energy for the film… and then never did anything like that again in the whole movie.

Agreed. It’s one of those films that’s somehow less than the sum of its parts. If I had to pin it on one thing, it would probably be the DiCaprio and Diaz casting. DiCaprio, especially, never looks right to me in period roles, with the possible exception of Django Unchained.

The people looked way to much like modern actors dressed up in period garb rather than actual 19th Century people. This was not the case in comparable movies such as Glory.

Similarly, way too many people behaved in ways that struck me as unlike the way they would have behaved back then.

I was a bit offput by the civil war happening in the background but who cares about that shit, man, this is about NEW YORK and that’s the only important place on Earth, man!

As bad were the trailers that said “America was born… in the streets!” as though this pointlessly violent squabble among a bunch of dirt-poor dumbass thugs was the crucible of the nation while the Civil War was happening in the background.

If I loved New York and had a number of romantic notions about it being the center of the universe, I expect I’d feel differently.

Since my primary criticism was aimed at the script, I’ll at least credit that the Civil War happening in the background was kind of the point of the story being told here.

Southern Secession was a major test of how America was to be defined. The conclusion of the Civil War firmly established that America is one country and that no specifics of local interests will ever trump allegiance to the union of the United States as a single country.

The gangs of Five Points had a naively myopic view of the world. Basically, their neighborhood was the center of their universe and they took no notice of anything happening outside a radius of a few blocks. If the Civil War is mentioned at all within the neighborhood, it is addressed with disdain in a “that’s got nothing to do with me” manner.

The first day of the draft riots, the gangs are preparing for their battle the next day- uninterested or oblivious to the big picture. On the second day of the riots, the gangs show up for their appointed brawl as if it’s just any other regular day.

We the audience are supposed to recognize how clueless they are, and how pathetically petty they are to think their local squabbles count for anything in the grand scheme of things. The Civil War was raging and would soon establish once and for all an undisputed national identity that would supercede all local interests. We would be Americans first, all our various subcultures would only amount to “local flavor”.

Again, I don’t think the film delivers very strongly as an allegory but this basic point is reasonably well-made I think. Having the Civil War happen “in the background” is a central commentary on the worldview of the main characters.

Rambling, pointless, and barely describing the conditions people actually lived in. A completely forgettable film IMHO. It attempts to make the course of life remarkable to people for whom it was ordinary at the time.

I think I broadly agree with where you’re coming from. It felt like to me they were trying to pack a lot of stuff into a movie. An HBO miniseries in the vein of Deadwood or Boardwalk Empire, with the set piece fight scenes as the highlights, would have been more appropriate I think, although there’s probably only enough material there for 1 season at best.

It has been a while since I’ve seen it, I might give it another go now that I’ve read this thread.

I had read Gangs of New York, and a few other books on 19th century New York, and was eagerly awaiting the movie. I was disappointed. Why? Aside from Daniel Day-Lewis, no one captured the kind of larger than life characters that these people were supposed to have been. This was a dangerous time and place, more violent than the “wild” west, but what we got was the theme park version. The revenge plot seemed trivial, an afterthought included only to give the characters something to do. There are plenty of gangster movies and westerns with lower stakes and more emotional weight. Scorsese wasn’t willing to risk a real movie about feral Victorians.

He was good in This Boy’s Life., with Robert DeNiro.

I still think it’s a very good movie. But I don’t consier it “great” like Goodfellas and Casino. Same thing with The Departed. I don’t blame DiCaprio. There’s just something about the pacing and character development of both films that seemed a bit forced somehow. Almost like Scorsese was trying to make some grand point or statement but didn’t have enough movie to do it in.

Possibly because DiCaprio seems most natural when he’s playing someone more boyish and mischieviously charming. Like in Titanic or Catch Me if You Can. I don’t necessarily buy him as a morose badass.