Gangs of New York (2002) Netflix
Tagline: America was born in the streets. That's funny because I know a guy who claims to have been educated on the streets, he's off his meds and so is this tagline.
Premise: Scorsese period- passion- project set in 1863. Years after seeing his gang leader father killed in a battle by rival leader Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis), a young Irish New Yorker (Leonardo DiCaprio) seeks revenge against the now influential Bill, but is taken under his wing, and could be sailing too close to the sun.
Delivery: “The appearance of law must be upheld, especially while it is being broken.”
I've seen Gangs of New York a number of times, and at first I wasn't a huge fan, although there are many aspects of it I very much like, and some which have grown on me over the years. However, you always notice new things when you rewatch a film, and this time, watching on its current Netflix home, I noticed something which shook me to my very core. More on that later...
The film is a three hour conflict of juxtaposition; stylish and stylised, period and contemporary, brutal and beautiful, well acted but bafflingly also hammy. There's something a little bit pantomime about the Thespian techniques taken in Gangs of New York, and Mr Day Lewis (and his moustache, which deserves its own credit) are the epicentre of that. Initially I didn't get on with the OTT aproach, but over time it has grown on me. Leo is fine and I have no idea why but for some reason Cameron Diaz really annoys me. All the time, not just in this. While Gangs of New York takes itself seriously, I don't believe for a second anyone making it realistically thought it was going to be a classic.
As one might expect, Gangs of New York is well made, with Scorsese behind the camera you know there'll be a certain level it won't dip beneath. One shot in particular, an apparent one take tracking shot of the Irish immigrants landing on their steamers and the men being syphoned off immediately to go and fight the war as the coffins of those they're replacing are unloaded, blew my mind. It still does
I don't know how historically correct Gangs of New York is, because I don't know anything about history and I'm fucking lazy, but if I had to guess I'd say it's got about as much truth in it as Oliver Twist has about London. It doesn't feel real. Jazzed up for the screen, basically. This is a big budget Hollywood film, they've got to vajazzle the ever living labia out of it. More glitter for the pink hole pleas;! Now that's Hollywood!
There's nothing really complex about Gangs, it's pretty straight up and down, the subtext is really just caps lock, shouting from the page. This is a film about the responsibility of fatherhood, the birth of a city and a nation, of forefathers and paternity and what it's like to have a dad or be a son, or be a dad and have a son, it's about the responsibilities of killing your father, or not if you don't feel like it, or even killing your son who isn't really your son and OH WOW LOOK THERE'S NEW YORK AT THE END OF IT!
Not to finish of a portent of doom, but I noticed that by the end of the film, Leonardo DiCaprio... has a man bun. I was all ready to give a respectable score to Gangs of New York, and then I noticed this atrocity. The film is sixteen years old, do we have it to blame for the cultural travesty that is the man bun? Does Gangs of New York unwittingly portray the birth of a city and the decline of masculinity and common sense? I should take marks off, or at least start a petition to have it digitally remastered so that Leo has a military approved buzz cut or something. Hoo-Rah!
Bedsit it? I still don't think Gangs of New York is earth shattering, and it's a long way from Scorsese's best film. But hey, it's fun, it's camp, it's bloody and will probably sit forever as a film I can happily rewatch but which will never surpass a 7/10.