12 February 2003 | Rosacrux
He actually did it!
You'd think Scorcese has bitten a bit more than he could possibly chew, this time. Well, he didn't. Gangs of new York is not an "epic masterpiece" and it ain't that because I seriously doubt the directors aim was that. It's a great movie in it's own account, but you have to watch it in the right way.
The plot: Tight enough and well paced, with a couple of lows (expected for a three-hour film) but generally it comes out pretty neat. Some may find it disturbing, as it contains extreme violence and it does not portray an America of happy workers, even happier slaves, benevolent rich and just authorities - instead, it portraits the true 1860 society. Definitely not for those who like their films with plenty of sugar on the top.
The epic and the drama: Well, basically the film is the story of two men. Around them things evolve and a brave new world comes forth - but we only get to watch snapshots of that world. Until the last sequence, that is when the whole city "explodes" (in some occasions literally...) and the streets are being covered in blood, and the two aspects (the main story and the events of the era) are being tied together in the same continuum.
At the same time, the director attempts to portrait the whole birth and growth of the United States, in a kind of parabole, but without loosing his focus on the main story and the surrounding. Scorsese dives deeply into the psychology of his heroes, without giving out any explanation of their acts other than the probable - he lets us figure it out ourselves, and that's a God-given gift.
The visuals: The film is disturbing, as it contains extreme violence. There are literally streams of blood, hacking, slashing, crushing - even some action movie fans (hey dude, look, he smashed his head with that thing... cool, man!") might find some parts of the film interesting. The last sequence is visually astounding, and it's by it's own account a reason to watch this film over and over again... if you got the stomach to actually cope with the disturbing images, that is.
The actors: I didn't think it would come a day when I'd say that Leo Di Caprio can act, but ...here I go: The kid can act. And quite good too. Guess he needed a Scorsese to put him in the right path. Same with Cameron Diaz - she has got some potential, seems so. Too bad she wastes it in films like "the sweetest thing" and other throw-ups like that. And... Daniel Day Lewis. Truly, with this performance, they should give him the Academy award. He portrays the vile "Butcher" in a way few would be able of, and he adds depth to a character that could very easily end up "two-dimensional". He is stunningly good.
New York, New York: Scorsese gets involved in something that compares to his previous work the way a fancy little sports car compares to a huge truck: A grandioso film of epic proportions and of great ambition. He does deliver, I believe. But this film shall not be acknowledged universally, because there is too much violence, corruption, lack of the good old white vs black (good vs evil, I mean) concept and does not sweeten the pill in any way. It's disturbing and raw, and it's a great. It's not a political film - in such, the director usually picks a stance, a "true" hero, an opposing view, and builds upon those. In this case, the director is truly endistancemented and keeps that distance, even from his "hero". There are no "good" people in that movie, all are acting like chess pieces in a predetermined way, but at the same time they try to burst out and do their own.
The verdict: A fabulous film, which is going to be recognized for such in some years