British actor Daniel Day-Lewis has a rather long history of playing Irishmen in film. Or so it seems. Well, now he gets his chance to break out of the mold, cause in Martin Scorsese‘s violent period drama Gangs of New York, he plays the most virulent, racist, anti-Irish, cruel sonofabitch I’ve seen in a very, very long time. The basic story is thus: In 1863, just out of state reform school up north, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the “Five Points” portion of lower Manhattan to seek revenge for his father’s death. His father, a priest and leader (Liam Neeson) was killed by William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), aka. “Bill the Butcher”, during a gang clash in 1846. Vallon works his way into Cutting’s gang, with revenge on his mind, and in the process encounters Jennie Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), a thief who has a somewhat unclear relationship to Cutting. The film shows us what life might have been like back then, with the different gangs running the show, corrupt city officials, a flood of Irish immigrants, the Civil War going on, and (of course) the impending draft. The film ends with the draft riots, so it’s certainly grounded in historical fact.
Being a Martin Scorsese film, there is plenty of violence, and plenty of film – it’s about 2:45, and seemed to drag in a few places. For the most part, though, the acting was solid, the storyline engaging, and most of all, the look of the film was really impressive. A lot of detail went into the production, and it clearly shows on the screen. On a music end of things, I’m still very upset that Elmer Bernstein‘s score was tossed, but the piece they chose to replace it – a composition called “Brooklyn Heights” by Howard Shore – works well enough. Toss in a bit of Bono and U2 for “flayvah”, and suddenly there’s a bit of modern crap messing up an otherwise solid soundtrack. The film is worth taking a peek at if you’re interested in what life in New York City was like back then, but if you’re not interested in wading through a nearly 3-hour long drama edged with Shakespearean undertones, you might as well pass, or wait for video.