Gangs of New York is by no means the indisputable masterpiece Scorsese no doubt dearly believed it could have been. But this violent, seething, morally ambiguous, eventually muddled hymn to the troubled birth of New York is still frequently astonishing, with things you just don’t see in anyone else’s films. The look of the thing, for a start, is amazing, Scorsese’s cameras hurtling around the elaborate facsimile of the city’s Five Points district, a grim battleground ruled by the fearsome Bill The Butcher-played by Daniel Day-Lewis with a worrying intensity. Set principally in 1863, the American Civil War raging in the background, the movie’s central narrative is pretty elementary. It’s a patricidal revenge saga, basically, with Leonardo DiCaprio out to avenge the death of his father, the charismatic Priest Vallon, at the hands of the murderous Bill?Darth Vader in a stovepipe hat?who by now has adopted the scheming Leo as the son he never had (cue much teeth-gnashing and head-butting when DiCaprio’s true intentions are revealed). Cameron Diaz is also at hand, in a barely-written role as the much tussled-over love interest. What really carries the film, however, is Day-Lewis’ towering turn as Bill and the sheer ferocity of Scorsese’s direction, the relentless momentum and unbelievable energy he packs into every teeming scene. The climax is disappointing?a muddled conflation of actual events and a misfiring showdown between DiCaprio and Day-Lewis?but much that has gone before is truly unforgettable.
DVD EXTRAS: Scorsese commentary, featurettes on costume design, the sets, history of the Five Points, documentary, trailer, U2 music video.