So Gangs of New York, which we watched for my Immigration class, was the film that SHOULD have netted Scorses a fucking Oscar. I mean The Departed was a good movie and all, but you could tell it was the Academy being all like "Hey, Marty, sorry we've basically ignored you for the past thirty-odd years. Have an Oscar on us, dude" Also, even if you're iffy about Gangs of New York being one of his best movies, it's pretty much universally agreed that Daniel Day "had his nose broken on accident in a scene and kept on going" Lewis was criminally robbed of a Best Actor Oscar.
All righty, let's get to it. The film opens in Five Points, New York City, in 1846. Liam Neeson as "Priest" Vallon and his Irish-immigrant pals are going to have a dust-up with DDL's character, Bill The Butcher and his Nativist buddies. Attending the fight as well is Vallon's son, Mini-Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, it does not go well and, as in most movies where Liam Neeson plays somebody's dad, he dies horribly. But while he is on-screen he makes quite the impression.
"I accept the challenge of the so called 'natives.' They plague our people at every turn, but from this day out, they shall plague us no more...Also their top hats look silly"
...waittaminute, was that Will Ferrell sidekick John C. Reilly?
So yeah, the fight goes south and little Leo, or Amsterdam as he is for some reason named, is shipped off to Hellgate, which manages to be less nice than it sounds. Sixteen years later he comes back to Five Points with one goal in mind: Kill Bill...The Butcher.
But there are a few things distracting young Amsterdam from his murderous machinations: Jenny the beautiful and audacious pick-pocket, played by Cameron Diaz, who does all right, the realization that his father's gang is either dead or switched to Bill's side (curse you, John C. Reilly!) and finally, Bill himself, who is such a magnificent bastard that Amsterdam isn't quite sure what to do. He works his way into Bill's inner circle and quickly becomes a favorite until Bill sees Amsterdam as the son he never had.
That's when things get complicated for Amsterdam, and for the audience as well. It's also when DDL shines the brightest. Bill the Butcher is an asshole. A racist, xenophobic, murderous asshole. But God dammit if he isn't a charming one. He also has a weird sort of honor thing going on. He goes on about fighting like men, gives food to poor people and praises Amsterdam's father as the only worthy enemy he ever fought. Of course he also throws a meat cleaver into an unarmed dude's back, hurls rocks at old Irish women and tossed Jenny aside like old garbage after she got pregnant with his baby and had to abort it.
Eventually, Amsterdam's true intentions towards Bill come to light and Five Points prepares for an all-out war between Bill and Amsterdam's factions. Except, with a new dawn arising, the Civil War raging and draft riots tearing New York apart, does their feud even matter anymore?
Gangs of New York is an epic film that explores the beginnings of America in a blood-soaked drama that may not be terribly historically accurate, but is so awesome that you shouldn't care too much. Scorsese originally had the idea for the film back in the late seventies and I think it shows that he was incubating this one for a long while. Everything is masterfully done: the dialogue, the costumes, the characters and the sets, oh man, the sets! Scorsese went to some soundstage in Rome and built this massive, nigh-ginormous replica of the old streets of New York. It is reported that George Lucas visited the set one day and informed Scorsese that "Sets like that can be done with computers now"
Epic really is the best word to describe this film. Even if you aren't a fan of it, you have to at least admit that it is epic on a grand scale. The story is great, the fights are bloody, the accents are thick and the acting is great. Four catapults out five.
And that's all for tonight. I'm off to find a top hat, 'night!
Amsterdam: "It's a funny feeling being taken under the wing of a dragon. It's warmer than you'd think"