Gangs of New York [2002]

Gangs of New York may achieve greatness with the passage of time. Mixed reviews were inevitable for a production this grand (and this troubled behind the scenes), but it's as distinguished as any of director Martin Scorsese's more celebrated New York stories. From its astonishing 1846 prologue to the city's infernal draft riots of 1863, the film aspires to erase the decorum of textbooks and chronicle 19th-century New York as a cauldron of street warfare. The hostility is embodied in a tale of primal vengeance between Irish American son Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his father's ruthless killer and "Nativist" gang leader Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, brutally inspired), so named for his lethal talent with knives. Vallon's vengeance is only marginally compelling; DiCaprio is arguably miscast, and Cameron Diaz (as Vallon's pickpocket lover) is adrift in a film with little use for women. Despite these weaknesses, Scorsese's mastery blossoms in his expert melding of personal and political trajectories; this is American history written in blood, unflinching, authentic, and utterly spectacular. --Jeff Shannon

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