Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gangs of New York (2002)

Being the avid film fanatic and intense film connoisseur that I am, I am ashamed to say that this film marks the first time I have ever seen a film associated with this sentence: “Directed by Martin Scorsese.” Don’t get me wrong. I have most definitely heard of his work, but until this film, it all remained unseen by me. Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Departed, Shutter Island; ALL unseen by me! Hell, Hugo remains unseen by me. That’s how detached I am from his films. However, given the numerous slots on “best films of all time” lists, the day that me and a Martin Scorsese film would cross paths was certainly bound to happen, given my intrigue of his cinematic library. While this may not be the best introduction to his films, it certainly is an acceptable and unquestionably good one.

The film begins in 1846 in, where else, California. No, no, no, it begins in New York, specifically in the Five Points area. The New York citizens and the new wave of Irish immigrants battle it out on the streets of New York. One man, played by Liam Neeson (back when he wasn’t doing vitriol-inducing sequels or befuddling adaptations of board games), gets murdered by the leader of the New York citizens, Bill the Butcher, played by Daniel Day-Lewis. His son, in a very strong scene, is devastated and infuriated by his death. He is placed in an orphanage and 16 years later, he returns to New York with a seething vengeance and the face of Leonardo DiCaprio. He also runs into an attractive and wily pickpocketer, played by Cameron Diaz, who falls for DiCaprio.

The theme of hatred lingers throughout the film whether it’s hatred of immigrants, hatred of corruption and deceit, and even hatred on oneself. Consider a scene where DiCaprio realizes that the pickpocketer has a history with Bill the Butcher. DiCaprio is repulsed by this discovery and yet he still ends up sleeping with her. The way love simultaneously frustrates, liberates, and confuses DiCaprio is masterfully depicted. It’s moments like that where the hate is simmering yet internalized. Sometimes, hatred is expressed via unrestrained, lurid, brutal, and well-choreographed fight scenes, including the climactic battle where all the frustration and rage felt by all culminates ferociously.
While I have previously mentioned that I have never seen any of Martin Scorsese’s other films, I do know one thing: he is a filmmaker. Not only for his masterful storytelling (I mean, he follows up the most intense battle of the film with one of the most poetic, clever, and revealing endings I’ve seen), but also for his apt for creating taut, powerful moments and framing necessary and unique shots. Some POV shots and other little cinematography tricks (i.e. blood on the camera) really immerse the viewer into the setting and character that Scorsese emphasizes. Also, he clearly knows how to get the most out of his actors. Not only do his actors pull off brilliant performances, but also he uses a distinct trait of each actor (Day-Lewis’ intimidating presence, Diaz’s playful, child-like smile, and DiCaprio’s mature, devilish charm), emphasizes it and uses it for the better of, not only their characters, but themselves.

Daniel Day-Lewis has a goofy mustache, an artificial eye with a bird-shaped pupil, and looks like the ringleader for a Sweeney Todd circus. Yet he not only remains intimidating and ominous, but also creates one of the greatest villains in movie history. He’s just so deliciously evil. Diaz’s playfulness adds on to the craftiness and vulnerability of her character. DiCaprio’s charm makes his plight for vengeance authentic with his voice that just sounds awesome whatever he says. I bet waiters can’t properly place his order without bowing and chanting, “I am not worthy!”

So, the good news to Martin Scorsese fans is that he doesn’t disappoint. He has crafted a film with exceptional performances, effective cinematography, and competent storytelling. Throw in some amusing moments and a plethora of gorgeous, bodacious nude bodies (thank you, Scorsese) and it makes for not a great film, but a film definitely worth seeing. At least so you can say that you have seen a Martin Scorsese film.

RATING: An enthusiastic three stars out of four

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