Returning to Lower Manhattan's mean streets, Martin Scorsese's profoundly ambitious and engaging Gangs of New York sheds a different light on America's violent foundation myths. Embedding his signature concerns with Catholic immigrants, rival gangs, and arcane ethical codes in the spectacularly recreated squalor of the Five Points ghetto on the cusp of the 1863 Draft Riots, Scorsese's epic tale of nativist conflict, official corruption, and familial revenge is at once a precursor to his earlier Mob films and a sharp indictment of the usual American bromides about liberty and righteous conflict. From Liam Neeson's magisterial march through a baroque, torch-lit cellar to his death at the hands of Daniel Day-Lewis's eagle-eyed, fiercely charismatic "Bill the Butcher," the opening clash between Irish and "natives" is a stunning, kinetic montage of primitive violence. The U.S. military, however, is responsible for the copious blood on the streets at Gangs' tumultuous conclusion, overwhelming the archaic feud between Bill and Leonardo DiCaprio's Amsterdam and underlining the systemic bloodshed arising from Bill and his cohorts' entrenched racism and classism. Though the more intimate dimensions of the story are a mixed bag of allegorical romance and hoary Oedipal conflict involving DiCaprio, Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz's California-dreaming thief, the visceral punch of the action scenes is occasionally matched by such quiet interludes as the flag-clad Bill's sublimely twisted disquisition on paternity and honor. A potent and thoughtful cinematic experience despite its flaws, Gangs of New York is Scorsese's most vital work since The Age of Innocence (1993).
by Lucia Bozzola review