Gangs of New York: Gangsta's Paradise

Jan. 7, 2003, midnight | By Anna Schoenfelder | 21 years, 5 months ago

Death by butcher knife. Or hatchet. Or club. Or the ever popular meat cleaver. In Gangs of New York, chances are you'll be both shocked at the abundance of murder and amazed at the myriad ways it can be committed. Director Martin Scoresece made this period drama spectacularly accurate in set design, slang, costume, and, of course, in the ever-present violence that permeated the life of the destitute in New York's slums in the civil war era.

As a young Irish immigrant in a hostile city, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) bears witness to a gang fight between the Dead Rabbits, led by his father, "The Priest," and the Natives, led by "Bill the Butcher". During the fight, Bill kills The Priest, and the parentless Amsterdam spends the next 15 years in an orphanage. He emerges a highly capable young man bent on avenging his father's death.

Leo does a passable job as the intense, brooding Amsterdam, and Cameron Diaz plays his daring, scandalous love interest, but the real star is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose olde Newe Yorke accent and handlebar mustache are only finishing touches on his richly acted and highly believable character.

Amsterdam's second encounter with his old neighborhood, "The Five Points," reunites him with a childhood acquaintance, who tells him that Bill is now the undisputed leader of the most important gang in the Five Points. Amsterdam makes short work of Bill's right-hand man and takes his place, next to the dragon's heart.

If the violence in the film is a little unnerving, it is merely a reflection of New York's troubled history. The fights in New York between the immigrants and the natives show the forces of change working in America's most dynamic city. Bill's character evokes pity because despite his strong front, he is fighting a losing battle against two unstoppable enemies: age and change. The plot repeatedly refers to the crooked politicians and corrupt police of the adolescent government.

The reality of the setting is the crown jewel in Gangs, and the accurate portrayal of this historically significant time period is enough of a reason to see this movie, especially for those who (like me) slept through that US History class. Even history phobes can be gripped by this powerful epic, provided they have iron-clad stomachs.

Anna Schoenfelder. 04 real. Anna is a j-j-j-junior in CAP. She has a litterbox and it is very green. Her favorite activities include spinning, agitating, and mincing. She feels very prickly about the stirrup that she owns. She hopes one day to taste very good, and perhaps … More »

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