For a movie that was almost 3 hours, I never managed to get bored. Viewers will love to hate Daniel D. Lewis in this role. What a performance! Many ancestors could have been part of these gangs. How people survive the times is a thought that comes to mind while watching. I can only hope that the violence depicted in the film was somewhat inflated. Have things changed since the late 1800s? Sure, but gangs still exist and corruption is more rampant than ever. In the 1840s. Natives and Irsih Americans fight to the death in New York, resulting in the death of Irish leader Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and Native Bill The Butcher's (Daniel Day Lewis) undisputed rule of the city's criminal underworld. Vallon's son, Amsterdam (Di Caprio) escapes. And after growing into an anonymous young man, returns to reap his revenge, yet unwittingly becomes the butcher's protégé...
Scorsese was bringing a long treasured project to the screen with Gangs, creating a hype that suffered from setbacks, delayed releases and mixed reviews. In hindsight what we have is no masterpiece, but it remains an undeniably good film, with many fine qualities to make up for its flaws.
Scorsese's recreation of the city is stunning: the level of detail completely immerses the viewer into an atmosphere scarcely read of in History books. Moreover, the rich criminal world depicted here maintains a delicate balance of understandability and chaos. Scorsese couples this with his flair for music to create a truly intoxicating mood. The photography reinforces the overall effect tenfold, wonderfully sustained and carrying scattered sparks of pure genius. For example: in one shot, Scorsese pans from newly arrived immigrants who are welcomed, given the nationality, provided a uniform, and enlisted into the Union army to coffins of dead soldiers being unloaded on another peer.
Ultimately, a film lives or dies by its screenplay and acting, and herein lies Gangs of New York's polarizing point. Whether you focus on the slightly uneven story (oddly shortened in places by pressured editing) or the fantastic performances will determine whether Gangs makes it or breaks it, but for its sheer visual power and acting it deserves to be seen. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Brendan Gleeson and John C. Reilly are all a joy to see when on top form, but the true feast here is Daniel Day Lewis's grand-standing, violent and xenophobic Bill The Butcher. A role that Robert De Niro (for whom it was originally intended over the years). The chances of this film becoming a favorite are slim, but at the very least you'll walk away with an indelible character to remember.