Review: Gangs of New York (2002)

Gangs of New York 2002 Movie Poster

“When you kill a king, you don’t stab him in the dark. You kill him where the entire court can watch him die.”
– Amsterdam Vallon

For months I have been trying to source the time and energy to watch this movie again. I haven’t watched it years, and got very nostalgic reading a list of someone’s top movies recently. It was time again to go back to the filthy streets of New York and a time that has almost been long forgotten and view the tale anew.

Priest Vallon
Priest Vallon

“Priest” Vallon (Liam Neeson) leads his Irish people and their supporters to fight for their place in America. However, opposing gang leader, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), has very different feelings about the foreigners infiltrating their land. Calling a final show down in New York between the “Natives” (people born in America) and the Dead Rabbits (Irish Catholics), the men fight until the very death. Young Amsterdam Vallon (Cian McCormack) watches his father, the Priest, killed before his very eyes, and runs. He will not be a captive of the Butcher, and he will never stop fighting, not until his father’s death is avenged. He is, however, caught by the Butcher’s henchmen, and sent to an orphanage.

The Butcher in Town Gangs of New York
The Butcher walks the streets fearlessly

Sixteen years later, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to New York from the Hellgate Orphanage. Intent on seeking revenge on the man that murdered his father. He is shocked and surprised to see some of his father’s right hand men grovelling and in league with Bill, and cannot believe that things have gone the way they have. Bill has control over the Five Points of Manhatten, and is revered and feared by all. He runs into his old friend, Johnny Sirocco (Henry Thomas), who is the only person who knows his true identity. Slowly but surely Amsterdam works his way into the Butcher’s inner circle, while falling through a very passionate relationship with Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz). Bill takes an especial liking to Amsterdam, and he rapidly climbs the ranks as well as in the esteem of the Butcher.

Gangs of New York Fight
Street brawls

However, New York is riddled with issues, and William “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent) makes use of Bill to keep people in check as well as have certain things done, though this is done on the down low. Amsterdam makes the Butcher a lot of money, and is taught kill shots by the master, who deeply respects the Priest all those years ago, and sees him as the only man worth ever fighting. In between all this, Amsterdam and Jenny are getting hotter and colder all the time, and this does nothing other than piss his friend off, who has guessed at what Amsterdam plans for the Butcher, and gives in out of anger and jealousy, spilling the beans on Amsterdam’s identity.

Gangs of New York New War
Amsterdam Vallon, resurrecting the Dead Rabbits

Surviving the ordeal that Bill put him through, Amsterdam is set on fighting, and comes back with everything he has got. Jenny helps him regain his strength, and whatever past she and the Butcher had, it is over, and she has chosen. From elections to street brawls, the Irish and their supporters are now ready to stand and fight, to take their stand. They will no longer be crushed.

Things get a little mad when the Dead Rabbits run Walter “Monk” McGinn (Brendan Gleeson) for Mayor and he wins. Bill takes this personally and takes care of Monk himself, killing him publicly. This has opened a new avenue to the people of the towns. Bill has asserted his dominance again, but Amsterdam will hear nothing of it. Apparently, neither will Boss Tweed. Full scale riots ripple through the streets and soon catch momentum. Meanwhile, Amsterdam and Bill are intent on ending their turf war, and their people stand by them. Who will control the Five Points when this is over? Will the Irish have a place in the New York that rises from the ashes?

Gangs of New York scores 7/10. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance was simply breathtaking, and he was a great choice. Leonardo DiCaprio was again, for me, suited for the work that he did, and I don’t know why everyone is so upset with his portrayal. He was good, as always, and impressed me. The film was put together well, albeit very long, every question was answered, and in extreme detail. It was interesting to watch a father’s legacy picked up by his son, and continued effortlessly. History was woven into a story that was about something completely different, but Martin Scorcese pulled it off without a hitch. The Butcher was a great character for me, and the psyche behind these men is strange. It was honourable for them to do what they did as well as how they did it. Still, I am not blown away by Cameron Diaz’s acting capabilities, but she was better in this role than most things I have seen her in. She was not as jarring as I thought she would be the first time I saw that she would feature in the flick. A great story with a great cast, it was a wonderful film to watch!

8 thoughts on “Review: Gangs of New York (2002)

  1. Nice review! I like Gangs of NY and you hit on the key reason why – the performance of DDL. It’s soooo good. And I 100% agree on Diaz. She’s miscast here and can’t seem to handle the material.


  2. A little too long and uneven, but overall, a pretty entertaining flick that benefits from an amazing performance from DDL. That scene with him and Leo where they just sit and talk is a great scene and I wish I got more of that. Good review Zoe.


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