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Gangs of New York

America Was Born In The Streets. 

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

In 1846, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) of the Dead Rabbits immigrant gang in the New York slum known as Five Points prepares to do battle against the “natives” - the ‘true’ Americans in the city, led by Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) - and loses. Sixteen years later, Vallon’s son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), is released from a reform school and sets out to exact revenge on the man who killed his father by infiltrating Bill’s closest circle of friends - though matters are complicated slightly when he meets pickpocket Jenny (Cameron Diaz), whose past threatens to thwart his plan. In addition, alongside the physical battles being fought in the city (culminating in the 1863 Civil War Draft Riots), Scorsese highlights the political battles of the day, intertwining the personal and the political to create a film that is part highbrow exposé and part brutal truth.

While perhaps not as artistically beautiful as that of Raging Bull, the cinematography in Gangs of New York conveys the epic quality of the story, and the set design and backdrop - meticulously recreated at the famous Cinecita studios in Rome - rebuilds New York in such a way as to genuinely create awe. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz may run the risk of seeming decidedly anachronistic (and anybody with an aversion to bad Irish accents would do well to prepare themselves before making the trip to L3), but Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. Effortlessly stealing every scene he is in - both the exaggerated and the subtle - his metamorphosis into Bill Cutting is astounding in its removal from his off-screen persona, and is a mark of just how accomplished an actor he is.

A labour of love for director Martin Scorsese - and unashamedly so - Gangs of New York is by no means easy to watch and is as challenging as it is rewarding. This is a motion picture which was thirty years in the making and is almost as epic in its intentions and as violent in its execution as perhaps the very material from which it takes its inspiration.  Films with this amount of ambition and grandeur don’t often come out of Hollywood, so although the violence quotient will not be to everyone’s taste, Gangs of New York is well worth checking out. 

Laura Watson

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)
2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)
2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)