The gangs of New York

By Vision Reporter

Was America really ever like this? With roving bands of brigands and rival gangs battling for turf on the streets of its major cities?

Film: Gangs of New York
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Jay Cocks
Running time: 166 minutes.
Rating: R for intense violence, sexuality/nudity and language
Showing at Cineplex, Wilson Road from Friday
Preview by: Kalungi Kabuye

Was America really ever like this? With roving bands of brigands and rival gangs battling for turf on the streets of its major cities? We all know about the Wild West, and the Indians and cowboys, but is the violence and lack of law order shown in this film the prelude to democracy?

Martin Scorcese’s depiction of what New York was like in the mid 19th century was the best film that did not win an award at the recently concluded Oscars, but critics still swear by it, and predict it will win the box office battle over the multi-award winning Chicago.

The city shown in Gangs of New York is a far cry from today’s Time Square and Manhattan. It is a savage city, “the forge of hell,” where rival gangs clear turf by killing of rivals, using knives, swords, bayonets, cleavers and axes.

It is a city where competing fire brigades and police forces fight each other in the streets, black people and the Irish are chased by mobs, and the navy is called in to fire on the poor.

It is also a New York where William ‘Bill the Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) holds sways, and believes he is King of New York. And when the Irish mob leader Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) sets out to challenge Bill in battle, the battle of Five Points, he takes his young son Amsterdam with him.

But Vallon loses that particular battle, and his life, and his son ends up in an orphanage, not much better than those depicted by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist. In fact there are several parallels between Gangs and Twist.

We see the savagery of New York through the eyes of Amsterdam, an innocent forced to deal with an unfair world. There is the young girl Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), who may be a thief, but is loyal to Amsterdam. Remember Nancy in Twist?

Fifteen years later, Amsterdam emerges from the orphanage, now a man and seeking revenge on Bill, who still rules Five Points and is somehow influential in the politics of the city. The young man infiltrates the Butcher’s inner circle where meets Jenny, and the tow fall in love.

Although the movie garnered over 10 nominations, it did not win a single Oscar, which does not say much about the academy that dishes out what is supposed to be film’s ultimate prizes. Critics fell over themselves with praises over the film:

“Gangs of New York is an important film as well as an entertaining one. Mr. Scorsese wants to explain how we — New Yorkers, Americans, modern folk - got here from there, how the ancient laws gave way to modern ones,” A. O. Scott, New York Times.

“It’s a gruesome masterpiece, savage and majestic, unbearable and irresistible all at once,” Tor Thorsen, Reel.com.

It is a must-watch.

The gangs of New York