Gangs of New York

January 28, 2012 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The epoch saga of the making of this movie almost rivals the sheer intensity of it. Though Martin Scorsese has had plans to make this film for quite some time, we’ve only heard of it for the last few years. It’s one of those movies, like Titanic, that had everyone guessing “…when will it be done…”. Done it is and it was then nominated for 10 Academy Award nominations, though it won absolutely none of them. Thanks to the juggernaut of Chicago Scorcese saw himself once again shut out of the Academy. And exactly how long did it take to make this movie? To put things in perspective, Jim Broadbent who plays the role of “Boss” Tweed in the movie, took time off a few years ago to make a movie called Iris for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, last year! Though the passage of time doesn’t really seem to matter in a movie of this scope, we can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if released earlier (or later). And is it Leo who’s causing all of this fuss with movies, or does he just seem to be involved in these projects with obsessive directors? In any case, the result with this (and the aforementioned Titanic) have both resulted in some great movies. This is the latter…

No time is wasted getting to the action in this 167 minute marathon of a movie. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and his gang of men “The Dead Rabbits” are seen as they prepare for battle against a rival gang led by William Cutter (aka “Bill the Butcher” played to sheer perfection by Daniel Day Lewis). Every sort of weapon is seen here, ranging from knives to clubs made of wood. The battle, no less, is a massacre ending up with Vallon’s death. Vallon’s son, Amsterdam (later played by Leonardo DiCaprio) witnesses the death of his father and in turn sets out for revenge against Bill. We then find the characters in the “present”, spanning some 16 years and Amsterdam has returned in his early 20’s, but still with his hopes bent on avenging his late father. Bill (the Butcher) befriends Amsterdam and teaches him the way things work. Though somewhat the equivalent of a “drug lord”, Bill has somewhat of a snob in him and like a peacock, needs to show his feathers with the elite of New York from time to time. This opens the door for Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz in a miscast role), a local thief who even manages to mingle with the snobs of the town, only to pickpocket the rich. She is, naturally, the love interest for Amsterdam even if both of them are unaware of it.

As one might expect, the sheer length of this film makes it fun to watch, with strong performances by the leading trio of actors. Though the strong supporting cast of Jim Boradbent, John C. Reilly and Henry Thomas (yes, the one from E.T.) only add to the flavor of this film. This movie is not for everyone, especially those who don’t wish to see violence on screen. Imagine the worst scenes from Braveheart and double them; that’s what you’ll have here for over two hours. However, the emotional quotient of the film is something that keeps the viewer entertained during that time as well. The sheer moviegoing experience like this is something that we don’t get to see all that often. And, we have to wonder, now that this film is done, what will Mr. Scorcese do for an encore? One thing is certain, when and if that day finally comes that the “Academy” decides to honor him with an Oscar, what future work of art will they be doing it for? More likely, though, it will be for something he’s done in the past. In any case, the film certainly demands at least a viewing for anyone wanting to see one of last year’s greatest movies.

Video: How does it look?

The video presentation for Gangs of New York is simply superb. The film, running at 168 minutes, has been spread across two discs, both of which are dual-layered. Normally, we would consider this a bit irritating, but as for how the 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks; it’s worth getting up and switching the disc. Colors range from warm and vibrant to dark and cold, depending on the mood of the film. I saw no evidence of artifacting or any edge enhancement at all. In fact, I even went back and re-watched some of the darker scenes so that I could look for anything that might be considered any type of flaw. I couldn’t find much of anything. The inclusion of two 5.1 tracks on the disc and with the sheer length of the movie being on one disc, I feel, would have greatly sacrificed the quality of the image. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here as the film looks beautiful. Truthfully, they don’t get any better than this.

Audio: How does it sound?

Just about as impressive as the video is the very robust audio. We’re given not one, but two 5.1 tracks to choose from, a Dolby Digital and a DTS. Granted, given the choice, most of us will choose the DTS and for good reason; it usually sounds better. Such is the case with this film, in which the audio pours out of every channel you have hooked up to your receiver. The LFE are extremely active during a majority of the movie and during the many fight scenes, the surrounds don’t stop humming for about 15 minutes. Every accent, dialect and bone breaking has some sort of sound associated with it and they all sound wonderful with either soundtrack you choose. A depth exists that I’ve only heard in a few discs out there, but rest assured, these are two tracks that will satisfy every viewer out there.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Disney has capitalized on the popularity of the film and has such, included several interesting supplements on their 2 Disc issue of this future classic. As mentioned above, the movie is spread across two discs and each has the continuing commentary with Director Martin Scorsese. Scorcese’s comments here are like that of his other tracks. One of film’s greatest advocates, we really get a feel for exactly what he went through to get this movie made (it had been planned as his follow-up movie to Taxi Driver). His sheer knowledge and history of the subject matter are impressive and they’re conveyed through his insightful track here. A must for fans of the movie and fans of Scorcese as well, as he delivers a solid commentary here. Additionally, the majority of the supplements are present on the first disc. We begin with a Costume Design featurette (for which the film was nominated for an Academy Award) with Sandy Powell. Powell walks us through the process of coming up with costumes and she tells us that though not entirely historically accurate, how the costumes came to be. Obviously an immense amount of work and thought went into the design and it’s showed in all its glory in the film. Next up, we have a featurette on the Set Design with Dante Ferritti. As with the costumes, Ferritti has gone through some painstakingly large models in which he presented to Scorcese. The set, one of the largest of its kind, was built in five months and realistically re-creates the look and feel of what it must have been like in the mid 19th. Next up, and closely related to the aforementioned featurette, is “Exploring the Set” with Scorcese and Ferritti. They literally walk around and point out the various landmarks but we’re then prompted to press “Enter” on the remote and then given a 360 degree view of what it looks like around that particular landmark. If you’ve ever used iPix on the internet, this will seem familiar to you. A very interesting feature that is finally starting to use more and more of what DVD is capable of.

What might make the movie make a bit more sense is if you watch the “History of the Five Points” featurette. Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorcese (along with some other members of the cast) tell about what the five points were all about, the rival gangs and the general tone of the movie. Though no real secrets are divulged here, there is a follow-up featurette entitled “Five Points Study Guide” in which some text-based notes are included on screens for your reading pleasure. Study up, there’s a test! Rounding out the features on the first disc are a teaser trailer and the original theatrical trailer. This brings us to the second disc in which the rest of the movie is housed (along with the remaining commentary track) and a very interesting documentary by the Discovery Channel. Aptly entitled “Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York”, this is a look at the true stars of the movie, but it’s got some promotional material in it as well, with some shots from the movie and an interview with Martin Scorsese. A “Luc Sante Introduction and Five Points Vocabulary” are included as well, though interesting (the Five Points vocabulary is essentially a glossary of terms used in the movie accompanied by their definitions), these seem a bit out of place here. This rounds out the supplements on the second disc. Fans of the movie will want to hurry and pick this up as the audio and video presentations are at reference-quality and there’s no shortage of supplements included, either. Highly recommended.

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