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Gangs of New York

Year: 2002
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, John C McGinley, Brendan Gleeson, Henry Thomas
With critics all over the world praising Martin Scorsese for making what everyone thinks is his 'seminal' work – even (as one reviewer described) the prequel to all his earlier films – watching it made me think there was something wrong with me.

Maybe everyone thought it had to be brilliant by default because it was a Scorsese film. But where his earlier efforts had clever and unpredictable characterisations and well-concocted stories, this was a mass of cheesy Hollywood archetypes.

The hero avenging his father's death from years before. The clever, headstrong leading lady (and ever-popular lovable female rogue! – everything from Days of Wine and Roses to Pretty Woman, anyone?), and the villain having leaped straight from a comic book. Scorsese just seemed to go soft and subscribe to all the corny Hollywood mainstays he used to avoid.

It's true the sets, backdrops and production design are all astounding, but they don't make a film exciting, original or entertaining.

Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) sees local gang leader Bill the Butcher (Day Lewis – playing nothing more than Dastardly Dan) kill his father in one of the gang battles that plauged New York as the Irish immigrants were arriving in their thousands in the late nineteenth century.

He comes into Bill's confidence, falls for Jenny the pickpocket (Diaz, in a role that amounts to nothing but eye candy), tries to exact his revenge but is thwarted, and so drives his father's old gang back into existence to challenge Bill's.

As they have their final fight, the navy shells New York City to quell the conscription riots, and it makes you wonder what Scorsese is saying – maybe that our petty fights are never important in the face of large scale economic and social upheaval?

The view from the cemetery as New York grows up seems to be making an anti-violence statement, but by that time you've just sat through a slightly-less-convoluted Titanic.

Day-Lewis' part, for all the wonder and praise heaped on him for only working every five years and being such a method man that he stayed in character during the entire shoot, was like a male wicked witch of the west, without an inch of depth. And DiCaprio can look as mean and stony-mouthed as he likes, he never looks old enough to shave, let alone believe passionately in anything.

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