“Gangs of New York” — Martin Scorsese’s epic tale of 19th century New York street gangs — is one of the most graphically violent films I’ve seen in a while. I didn’t think there were new ways to impress a desensitized audience with gore, but Scorsese pulled it off.
The movie kicks the violence off with a bloody street battle between two rival gangs. By the end of the sequence, one of the gang leaders is among the dead and the snow in the square is an orangish-red color.
From that point on, the plot of “Gangs of New York” basically centers around the dead gang leader’s son Amsterdam — played by Leonardo DiCaprio — and his attempts to avenge his father’s death.
To do that, Amsterdam befriends Bill the Butcher — Daniel Day Lewis — the gang leader who killed his father. Gradually, he gains the Butcher’s respect, becoming his right-hand man.
After the Butcher has predictably become almost a father figure to Amsterdam, they end up having a showdown. You’re not really wondering who wins, are you?
Meanwhile, there’s some sort of love story involving Cameron Diaz as a pickpocket who happens to be the love interest of both Amsterdam and the Butcher.
She doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose in the movie, other than to be the hot chick for Amsterdam to get it on with. Personally, I found my mind wandering during any scenes that had to do with their relationship.
There are also some other people who get killed and stuff. I don’t really remember the plot that well, because it wasn’t that important or interesting.
But don’t worry — the entire film is redeemed at the end, when the Civil War draft riots break out. The violence of the riots brings us back to the violence of the first battle scene, only on a much larger scale.
It’s awesome to watch this expensive depiction of the bloodiest riot that America had seen up to that point, and it could have kept me captivated for even longer than it ended up lasting. When the characters stop talking and being boring, “Gangs of New York” is a pretty good movie.
In fact, the sets and costumes are probably the best part of the movie, aside from the violent scenes, of course. It’s been estimated that over $100 million was spent on this movie, most of it to construct a painstaking reproduction of the streets of New York in a giant studio in Italy.
It seems like the expense was worth it, because the visuals are much more memorable than anything else in the movie. When the painstakingly reproduced streets run with blood at the end of the draft riots, no one in the theater is thinking about anything else.
Bottom line — “Gangs of New York” is a gorgeous movie, with gorgeous fight scenes. It’s too bad that New York apparently wasn’t populated by real people in the 1860s.