directed by Martin Scorsese
USA 2002

 

After years of planning and trying to put up this enormously expensive project, one of America’s finest
directors, Martin Scorsese, finally realized his cinematic dream in the 21st century: Gangs of New York

Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) loses his father Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) in a bloody gang fight in the
Five Points of New York. The Priest was killed by William Cutting aka Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), the most notorious gang leader in New York City. Years later, Amsterdam returns to the Five Points and has only one thing in mind: revenge for his father’s death.

“Gangs of New York” is not a classic revenge-story, although my very brief description makes it sound like that. This film is about much more. Its about two of Scorsese’s favorite themes, guilt and redemption,
omnipresent in almost all of his works. It deals with the differences in class and society (here portrayed
in the 19th century, but also a metaphor for today) and finally it is about America - and the hands that
built it.

I remember Pauline Kael talking about “the American experience” in some of the great films of the 1970s. I can feel that in “Gangs of New York”. This is not a corny, patriotic tale of how this country was built by
privileged, visionary men, but an honest depiction of its evolution into democracy. There are moments of stupefying violence in this film, but also subtle character development, especially in one of the most interesting and fascinating screen personas in recent time: Bill the Butcher.

Day-Lewis continues to amaze me in “Gangs of New York”. Bill the Butcher was described as a ruthless, murdering bastard by a lot of critics. While this is certainly correct, the Butcher is a much more multi-layered character. In one of the film’s most intimate scenes, the Butcher sits on a chair, his body covered with the US flag and tells Amsterdam about the last honorable man he has killed: Amsterdam’s father, Priest Vallon. There are a lot of moments in which the Butcher reveals facets of his complexity, like in the monologue about his father, who “gave his life to make this country what it is”. The Butcher is a cynical murderer, but at the same time he is a reactionary patriot, blinded by the stars of the flag.

I read a lot of negative words about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character. Some critics described Amsterdam
as shallow and superficial and I can’t see why. The intelligence of DiCaprio’s performance lies in the subtlety with which he creates emotions. For the first half of the movie, Amsterdam is desperately trying to hide his personality in front of the Butcher, but in some moments, we can witness the glowing hatred in his eyes, for the man who has killed his father. In the second half of the film, Amsterdam is no longer
capable of hiding his agenda. In the final confrontation between the two protagonists, when New
York is covered in dust and ashes because of the cannon fire from the ships, there is a moment in which
the Butcher and Amsterdam look at each other in an extraordinary way. It’s the key scene of the movie,
full of metaphysical intensity and power.

Apart from the complex story and meaning of the film, “Gangs of New York” is as usually with Scorsese - a work of visual brilliance. Production Designer Dante Ferretti and his crew have recreated the down and dirty New York of the 19th century in Rome’s legendary Cinecitta studios with great detail and accuracy. Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’ use of long takes and operatic shots reveal the epic grandeur of Scorsese’s composition. And then there’s Thelma Schoonmaker’s flawless editing, which is still ahead of its time, especially when you look at the stunningly choreographed massacre in the beginning of the film.

“Gangs of New York” absorbed and fascinated me. This is a film about brutality and violence, and yet it is
intelligent and emotional in the same way that the director’s masterpieces “Raging Bull”, “Taxi Driver”
and “GoodFellas” are. Scorsese likes to make films about people who seem to be unreachable and
superhuman. The power of his cinema lies in bringing them back to the ground, making us able to feel them.
 out of

C.P. Czarnecki

Theatrical Release: 9 December 2002

Reviews    More Reviews  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Splendid Entertainment (Two-Disc Special Edition) - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Splendid Entertainment

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 2:39:55 (4% PAL speedup)
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.56 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 5.1), DUB: German (Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS)
Subtitles English, German, German (hard of hearing), none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Splendid Entertainment

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Audio commentary by Martin Scorsese
• Documentary on the Set Design
• Explore the set of Gangs of New York
• Documentary on the Costume Design
• The Story of the Five Points
• Discovery Channel: The Real Gangs of New York
• Music Video of The Hands That Built America by U2
• German Theatrical Trailer
• Teaser Trailer

DVD Release Date: June 14, 2004
Digipack

Chapters 24

 

 

Comments A reference quality DVD! This German edition of "Gangs of New York" from Splendid Entertainment is almost identical to the American release with 2 major differences. The NTSC release offers a DTS track and the region 2 release is not spread over two discs. The film is 166 minutes long and was shown in the theatrically without a break, so purists who are not deterred by the 5.1 / DTS issue may consider this German DVD edition a better (uninterrupted) viewing experience.

The German version shows the complete uncut film on disc 1 and the very interesting bonus material on disc 2. The first release was packaged in a beautiful digipack, the second in a double keep case. A strong recommendation!

 - C.P. Czarnecki

 

 






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