GANGS OF NEW YORK
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
Around 20th street, the elite live in the uptown splendor
Scorsese once visualized for us in Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence.”
Downtown, at Five Points, the cultural cauldron of American-born New
Yorkers is stirred by Billy “the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Billy is fighting to keep
Here is Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent) already ruling Tamanny Hall, buying
the votes of the new immigrants. There
is Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), back in
Scorsese is after an epic, settling for no less than a majestic view of a
city being born. We can believe that
it is corrupt and lawless, but do we really believe the degree of it?
I can believe crooked fireman and cops; and we all know that people
gathered to cheer hangings; we know the mark of men lay in their derring-do with
knives, hatchets and cleavers before
guns allowed them to kill from a distance.
But do we really believe that the Dead Rabbits (newly arrived Irish
Catholics) and the Nativists (American born warriors) lined up at Five Points
armed with clubs (notched with kills), and cleavers to fight hand-to-hand until
the leader of one of these tribes killed the other?
I’m not so sure. The whole
movie invites historical inspection.
Even if you believe it, does it work?
Not really. Day-Lewis,
DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are the only characters who come alive.
Except for the inevitable and fatal meeting between the two tribal
chiefs, a mirror image of the opening scene, there is no compelling story line.
Scorsese is far more interested in the culture, the setting and the time
than he is in the characters themselves who are merely passing through history.
Instead of stepping off the ships into American mobility, immigrants were
more likely to step into Tamanny Hall, the Civil War draft, or a local gang war.
This is a rich tapestry with a lot of maybe/maybe not threads running
through it. Skeptics, take arms.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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