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Gangs of New York (2002) – DVD Review



Written by: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian & Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson


  • Featurettes on costume design, set design, and a history of the Five Points area
  • Set exploration Utilizing 360 Degree Shots of the Sets
  • U2 Music Video: “The Hands That Built America”
  • Discovery Channel Special: “Uncovering The Real Gangs of New York”
  • The Five Points Study Guide: Luc Sante Introduction and Five Points Vocabulary
  • Running audio commentary with director Scorsese
  • Theatrical Trailer

Released by: Miramax
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own it

[ad#longpost]Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) was a little boy when he saw his father (Neeson) murdered in the streets during a gang war in New York‘s Five Points area. Since that time, he has grown up in a Catholic orphanage, but now he is of the age where is going to be set loose on the streets of New York to make his own way. Needless to say, he returns to the Five Points to hunt down Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Day-Lewis), who took his father’s life, lo those many years ago. Knowing that he is a very well protected man, he begins to look for a way to get close to Bill and watch for the opportunity to take his revenge.

Gangs of New York is not without it’s faults (and let’s face it, there are very few movies that are), but Scorsese has directed a really good flick. The performances by the actors are second to none. Even DiCaprio is able to get his teen heartthrob image out of the way and dig in to create a realistic and heroic character. Diaz even manages to act in this movie (probably because she wasn’t allowed to fall back on her Ditzy Blonde act). If these two actors have a problem with their performances, it’s that their accents are not consistent, but it’s not bad enough to draw you out of the movie. No, no; the real stars of this movie are Day-Lewis and Broadbent.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher

Day-Lewis never ceases to amaze me with his devotion, living in his character’s skin from the moment he signs the contract to the moment the film is in the cinemas. His performance here is no different at all. He simply is Bill the Butcher: sleazy and underhanded, but at the same time he manages to allow his character to become the father that Vallon never had, and, in turn, makes him borderline sympathetic. And all this happens with the apparent ease of someone tying his shoes; it’s simply stunning. His scene with DiCaprio where he remembers killing Vallon’s father is one of the most haunting bits I’ve seen in a long time. The movie should not be missed for this scene alone. Broadbent creates a character who is the ultimate politician. He is able to change sides of an issue almost as easy as he can change his underwear. Not only that, but he also has one of the best lines in the movie, “The appearance of law must be upheld, especially when it’s being broken.” Period costumes are amazing and the sets are beautifully disgusting. It’s just too bad that filmmakers have not developed a way to get to our sense of smell yet, because this movie would have smelled horrible. Wait…actually, I guess that’s a good thing.

The DVD is as strong as any of its competitors. It’s a worthy treatment of the film–mostly because they didn’t forget about the all-important historical aspects. Scorsese’s commentary is very good. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s exceptional by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s good. What keeps it from being exceptional is that most of the information presented in his commentary can also be found on other parts of the DVD…and it’s usually better presented there, too. The two historical featurettes are outstanding, and between the two of them you get a very clear idea that the producers and designers of this film took the raw history of this story very seriously. They should not be missed. I personally think that the one produced by The Discovery Channel is the better of the two, but only because of the production values.


Perhaps the best of the features on this disc is the look at the sets. What you get here is, in essence, a fly-through of the sets from the movie that also allow you to “spin” the camera around and look at how they all fit together. There are interviews with the cast (including Day-Lewis…who doesn’t do that many interviews) and crew about their experiences in working on these amazing sets. The costume featurette is pretty much the same as the set design featurette, complete with interviews with the cast and crew involved. What interesting about this featurette is the idea of how involved in the design process the cast were with their own costumes. There is also a good section of the first disc that gives you definitions of some of the colloquialisms of the Five Points area during that time. It’s no more than text-on-screen, but if you are at all interested in language, it is fascinating.

The trailers for the movie are here, but I just don’t think they are worth mentioning on any DVD anymore unless they aren’t included. The only other bit of bonus material is the U2 music video for Bono’s “The Hands That Built America” number that was used for the closing credits sequence of the movie. It’s an okay song, but it’s going to wind up going the way of Bryan Adams’ number that was written for Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves…it just won’t be remembered.

So, when you’ve got the combination of a really good movie and some really strong bonus material, you have the makings of a hit in my eyes. I’m sure there will probably be a Special Edition release of this movie that will include all this and a little more somewhere down the line, but until then, this should definitely be added to your collection.

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