Gangs of New York
|Gangs of New York|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Martin Scorsese|
|Produced by||Alberto Grimaldi
|Screenplay by||Jay Cocks
|Story by||Jay Cocks|
John C. Reilly
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Thelma Schoonmaker|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Budget||$97 - $100 million|
Gangs of New York is a 2002 American epic historical drama film set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of Lower Manhattan in 1863. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan, inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1927 non-fiction book, The Gangs of New York. It was made in Cinecittà, Rome, distributed by Miramax Films and nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Most of the film takes place in 1863. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and the ongoing Civil War. The story follows Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in his roles as crime boss and political kingmaker under the helm of "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent). The film culminates in a violent confrontation between Cutting and his mob with protagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863.
On February 6, 1846, at Paradise Square in Lower Manhattan's Five Points, a territorial battle of hand-to-hand combat between Bill "the Butcher" Cutting's U.S.-born nativist gang, the Natives, and "Priest" Vallon's Irish Catholic immigrant gang, the Dead Rabbits, concludes when Cutting kills Vallon, witnessed by Vallon's young son, Amsterdam. Cutting declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed but orders that Vallon's body be buried with honor. Amsterdam seizes the knife used to kill his father, races off, and buries it along with a medal his father gave him. He is later raised at Hellgate orphanage.
In late 1862, an adult Amsterdam Vallon returns to Five Points and reunites with an old friend, Johnny Sirocco, who reintroduces Amsterdam anonymously to Cutting. Amsterdam finds many of the former Dead Rabbits are now loyal to Cutting, including "Happy Jack" Mulraney, who has become a corrupt police officer, as well as the racist McGloin. Amsterdam works his way into Cutting's inner circle, and learns that, each year, Cutting celebrates the anniversary of his victory over the Dead Rabbits. Amsterdam plans to avenge his father by killing Cutting during that year's ceremony. Amsterdam becomes more deeply involved with Tammany Hall, the twisted political empire of Boss Tweed, who is heavily manipulated by Cutting.
Soon after Amsterdam and Johnny meet up, they run into Jenny Everdeane, a successful and discreet pickpocket and grifter whom Johnny is clearly enamored of. Jenny later steals the medal that Amsterdam's father had given him long ago. Amsterdam follows Jenny, confronts her, and retrieves his medal. He is clearly attracted to Jenny as well. His sexual interest in her is dampened, however, once he learns she was Cutting's ward and still enjoys his affections.
During a theatrical performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Amsterdam thwarts an assassination attempt on Cutting that leaves the latter wounded. Both retire to a brothel, where Jenny nurses Cutting. Amsterdam and Jenny argue and then make love. Later that night, Amsterdam wakes to find Cutting sitting by him, draped in a tattered American flag. Cutting reminisces of how Priest Vallon was the last respectable enemy he ever fought; Vallon even once beat Cutting soundly, letting him live in shame rather than killing him. Cutting now credits the incident with giving him the strength of will to come back strong, and implies that Amsterdam is like the son he never had. Soon after, Johnny, jealous of Jenny and Amsterdam's relationship, exposes Amsterdam's true identity as Vallon's son to Cutting. During a knife-throwing act on the night of the ceremony, Cutting consequently baits Amsterdam by mildly wounding Jenny. Amsterdam hurls a knife at Cutting, which the latter deflects and counters with a knife throw of his own, hitting Amsterdam square in the abdomen, then beating Amsterdam into unconsciousness. Cutting then declares he will let Amsterdam live as a "freak," and burns a hot knife blade into Amsterdam's cheek.
Afterwards, in hiding, Jenny nurses Amsterdam back to health, and implores him to leave New York for California with her. They are visited by Walter "Monk" McGinn, who was a mercenary for Vallon in the Five Points battle. Monk gives Amsterdam an old token of his father, inspiring Amsterdam to rise again. Amsterdam places a dead rabbit on a fence in Paradise Square as a threatening sign for Cutting, who demands that the corrupt Happy Jack find Amsterdam. Happy Jack, however, is soon outmaneuvered by Amsterdam, who strangles him and hangs his body in the Square. In retaliation, Cutting beats Johnny, runs him through with an iron pike, and likewise hangs him in the Square; Amsterdam is forced to perform a mercy killing.
Tweed, unhappy with Cutting's methods, approaches Amsterdam with a plan to neutralize Cutting: Tweed will back the candidacy of "Monk" McGinn for local sheriff in return for the Irish vote. On election day, both Cutting and Amsterdam's sides use voter fraud and violent coercion to get citizens to vote, resulting in an impossible landslide victory for Monk. Cutting responds by murdering Monk publicly in cold blood. During Monk's funeral, Amsterdam challenges Cutting to a traditional gang fight, which Cutting accepts. Jenny books passage for California, believing Amsterdam will soon die.
The New York City draft riots break out, and many upper-class citizens and African-Americans are attacked by the rioters. Union soldiers enter the city to put down the riots. As the gangs meet, they are hit by cannon fire from naval ships in the harbor; most of the gang members are killed or dispersed. An enormous cloud of dust and debris covers the area, allowing Cutting to strike Amsterdam, though the two are thrown to the ground by another shell blast. When the smoke clears, Cutting discovers he has been hit by a piece of shrapnel, and says, "Thank God, I die a true American." Amsterdam passionately stabs Cutting to death, their hands locked together.
Cutting is buried in Brooklyn next to Priest Vallon's grave, which Amsterdam and Jenny visit before they leave together. Amsterdam narrates that New York would be rebuilt, but they are no longer remembered, as if "we were never here". The scene then shifts, in a series of dissolves, as modern New York City is built, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center, while the graves of Cutting and Vallon gradually become overgrown.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon
- Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill "the Butcher" Cutting
- Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane
- Liam Neeson as "Priest" Vallon
- Jim Broadbent as Boss Tweed
- Henry Thomas as Johnny Sirocco
- Brendan Gleeson as Walter "Monk" McGinn
- Gary Lewis as McGloin
- John C. Reilly as Happy Jack Mulraney
- Stephen Graham as Shang
- Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. as Jimmy Spoils
- Eddie Marsan as Killoran
- Alec McCowen as Reverend Raleigh
- David Hemmings as John F. Schermerhorn
- Cara Seymour as Hell-Cat Maggie
- Roger Ashton-Griffiths as P. T. Barnum
- Barbara Bouchet as Mrs. Schermerhorn
- Michael Byrne as Horace Greeley
- John Sessions as Harry Watkins
- Richard Graham as Harvey-Card Player
- Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Mr. Legree
|"The country was up for grabs, and New York was a powder keg. This was the America not the West with its wide open spaces, but of claustrophobia, where everyone was crushed together. On one hand, you had the first great wave of immigration, the Irish, who were Catholic, spoke Gaelic, and owed allegiance to the Vatican. On the other hand, there were the Nativists, who felt that they were the ones who had fought and bled, and died for the nation. They looked at the Irish coming off the boats and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was chaos, tribal chaos. Gradually, there was a street by street, block by block, working out of democracy as people learned somehow to live together. If democracy didn't happen in New York, it wasn't going to happen anywhere."|
|—Martin Scorsese on how he saw the history of New York City as the battleground of the modern American democracy|
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese grew up in New York's "Little Italy" in the 1950s. At the time, he had noticed there were parts of his neighborhood that were much older than the rest, including tombstones from the 1810s in Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, cobblestone streets and small basements located under more recent large buildings. He became curious about the area's history:
"I gradually realized that the Italian-Americans weren't the first ones there, that other people had been there before us. As I began to understand this, it fascinated me. I kept wondering, how did New York look? What were the people like? How did they walk, eat, work, dress?"
In 1970, Scorsese came across Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld (1928), about the city's nineteenth-century criminal underworld, and found it to be a revelation. Scorsese saw the potential for an American epic about the battle for the modern American democracy. At the time, Scorsese was a young director without money or clout; by the end of the decade, with the success of crime films such as Mean Streets (1973), about his old neighborhood, and Taxi Driver (1976), he was a rising star.
In 1979, he acquired screen rights to Asbury's book, but it took twenty years to get the production moving forward. Difficulties arose with reproducing the monumental city scape of 19th-century New York with the style and detail Scorsese wanted; almost nothing in New York City looked as it did in that time, and filming elsewhere was not an option. Eventually, in 1999, Scorsese was able to find a partnership with Harvey Weinstein, noted producer and co-chairman of Miramax Films. The production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio in Rome, Italy, where sets were produced to create 19th-century New York. Production designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of mid-nineteenth century buildings, consisting of a five-block area of Lower Manhattan, including the Five Points slum, a section of the East River waterfront and two full-sized sailing ships, a thirty-building stretch of lower Broadway, a patrician mansion, and replicas of Tammany Hall, a church, a saloon, a Chinese theater, and a gambling casino. For the Five Points, Ferretti recreated George Catlin's painting of the area.
Particular attention was also paid to the speech of characters, as loyalties were often revealed by their accents. The film's voice coach, Tim Monich, resisted using a generic Irish brogue and instead focused on distinctive dialects of Ireland and Great Britain. As DiCaprio's character was born in Ireland but raised in the United States, his accent was designed to be a blend of accents typical of the half-Americanized. To develop the unique, long-lost accents of the Yankee "Nativists", such as Bill Cutting, Monich studied old poems, ballads, newspaper articles (which sometimes imitated spoken dialect as a form of humor), and the Rogue's Lexicon, a book of underworld idioms compiled by New York’s police commissioner, so that his men would be able to tell what criminals were talking about. An important piece was an 1892 wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reciting four lines of a poem in which he pronounced the word "world" as "woild", and the "a" of "an" nasal and flat, like "ayan". Monich concluded that native nineteenth-century New Yorkers probably sounded something like the proverbial Brooklyn cabbie of the mid-twentieth.
Due to the strong personalities and clashing visions of director and producer, the three year production became a story in and of itself. Scorsese strongly defended his artistic vision on issues of taste and length, while Weinstein fought for a streamlined, more commercial version. During the delays, noted actors such as Robert De Niro and Willem Dafoe had to leave the production due to conflicts with their other productions. Costs overshot the original budget by 25 percent, bringing the total cost over $100 million. The increased budget made the film's success vital to Miramax. After post-production was nearly completed in 2001, the film was delayed for over a year. The official justification was, after the September 11, 2001 attacks certain elements of the picture may have made audiences uncomfortable; the film's closing shot is a view of modern-day New York City, complete with the World Trade Center Towers, despite their having been leveled by the attacks over a year before the film's release. However this explanation was refuted in Scorsese's own contemporary statements, where he noted that the production was still filming pick-ups even into October 2002.
Weinstein kept demanding cuts to the film's length, and some of those cuts were eventually made. In December 2001, Jeffrey Wells (then of Kevin Smith's website) reviewed a purported workprint of the film as it existed in the fall of 2001. Wells reported the work print lacked narration, was about 20 minutes longer, and although it was "different than the [theatrical] version... scene after scene after scene play[s] exactly the same in both." Despite the similarities, Wells found the work print to be richer and more satisfying than the theatrical version. While Scorsese has stated the theatrical version is his final cut, he reportedly "passed along [the] three-hour-plus [work print] version of Gangs on tape [to friends] and confided, 'Putting aside my contractual obligation to deliver a shorter, two-hour-and-forty-minute version to Miramax, this is the version I'm happiest with,' or words to that effect."
In an interview with Roger Ebert, Scorsese clarified the real issues in the cutting of the film. Ebert notes,
- "His discussions with Weinstein, he said, were always about finding the length where the picture worked. When that got to the press, it was translated into fights. The movie is currently 168 minutes long, he said, and that is the right length, and that's why there won't be any director's cut—because this is the director's cut."
Robbie Robertson supervised the soundtrack's collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks.
Scorsese received both praise and criticism for historical depictions in the film. In a PBS interview for the History News Network, George Washington University professor Tyler Anbinder discussed the historical aspects of the film.
Asbury's book described the Bowery Boys, Plug Uglies, Shirt Tails, and the Dead Rabbits. The last were so named after their battle standard, a dead rabbit on a pike. The book described William Poole, the inspiration for Bill "the Butcher" Cutting, a member of the Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement. Poole did not come from the Five Points and was murdered nearly a decade before the Draft Riots. Both the fictional Bill and the real one had butcher shops, but Poole is not known to have killed anyone. The book described other famous gangsters from the era such as Red Rocks Farrell, Slobbery Jim, and Hell-Cat Maggie, who filed her front teeth to points and wore artificial brass fingernails and was played by Cara Seymour in the film.
Anbinder opined that Scorsese's recreation of the visual environment of mid-19th century New York City and the Five Points "couldn't have been much better". All the sets were built completely on the exterior stages of Cinecittà Studios in Rome. By 1860, New York City had 200,000 Irish, in a population of 800,000. The riot which opens the film, though fictional, was "reasonably true to history" for fights of this type, except for the amount of carnage depicted in the gang fights and city riots. The large gang fight depicted in the film as occurring in 1846 is fictional, though one between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits in the Five Points on July 4, 1857 (the Dead Rabbits Riot) is not included in the film.
According to author and journalist Pete Hamill:
... The Irish hoodlums established the nexus between New York crime and New York politics that would last more than a century. A path was established among the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Bowery Boys that continues all the way to today’s Latin Kings, Crips and Bloods.
According to Paul S. Boyer, a U.S. cultural and intellectual historian:
The period from the 1830s to the 1850s was a time of almost continuous disorder and turbulence among the urban poor. The 1834–44 decade saw more than 200 major gang wars in New York City alone, and in other cities the pattern was similar.
As early as 1839, Mayor Philip Hone said:
This city is infested by gangs of hardened wretches ... [who] patrol the streets making night hideous and insulting all who are not strong enough to defend themselves.
Reviewer Vincent DiGirolamo concluded: "Gangs of New York becomes a historical epic with no change over time. The effect is to freeze ethnocultural rivalries over the course of three decades and portray them as irrational ancestral hatreds unaltered by demographic shifts, economic cycles, and political realignments."
The Draft Riots are depicted mostly as acts of property destruction; however, mobs physically attacked blacks, lynching several, and there were more than one hundred deaths, most of which were African-Americans. Irish gangs targeted blacks due to competition for work. In the film, Chinese Americans were portrayed as having their own community and public venues, but significant Chinese emigration to New York City did not begin until 1869 (although the Chinese emigrated to the United States as early as the 1840s), the time when the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed. The Chinese theater on Pell Street was not completed until the 1890s. The Old Brewery, the overcrowded tenement shown in the movie in both 1846 and 1862–63, was demolished in 1852.
The original target release date was December 21, 2001, in time for the 2001 Academy Awards, however the production overshot that goal as Scorsese was still filming. A twenty minute clip, billed as an "extended preview", debuted at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, and was shown at a star-studded event at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès with Scorsese, DiCaprio, Diaz and Weinstein in attendance.
Harvey Weinstein then wanted the film to open on December 25, 2002, but a potential conflict with another film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can produced by DreamWorks, caused him to move the opening day to an earlier position. After negotiations between several parties, including the interests of DiCaprio, Weinstein and DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, the decision was made on economic grounds: DiCaprio did not want to face a conflict of promoting two movies opening against each other; Katzenberg was able to convince Weinstein that the violence and adult material in Gangs of New York would not necessarily attract families on Christmas Day. Of main concern to all involved was attempting to maximize the film's opening day, an important part of film industry economics.
After three years in production, the film was released on December 20, 2002; a year after its original planned release date. While the film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, there are no plans to revisit the theatrical cut or prepare a "director's cut" for home video release. "Marty doesn't believe in that", editor Thelma Schoonmaker stated. "He believes in showing only the finished film."
Reviews of the eventual release in 2002 were generally positive, with Daniel Day-Lewis' performance receiving the most praise by critics—the review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes reporting 75% of the 202 reviews that they tallied were favorable. The RT Critical Consensus reads, "Though flawed, the sprawling, messy Gangs of New York is redeemed by impressive production design and Day-Lewis's electrifying performance."
In Variety, Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "falls somewhat short of great film status, but is still a richly impressive and densely realized work that bracingly opens the eye and mind to untaught aspects of American history." McCarthy singled out what he considered the meticulous attention to historical detail and production design for particular praise.
Some critics, disappointed with the film, complained that it fell well short of the hyperbole surrounding it, that it tried to tackle too many themes without saying anything unique about them, and that the overall story was weak.
At the 75th Academy Awards, Gangs of New York was nominated for a total of ten Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (for Scorsese), Best Actor (for Day-Lewis), Best Original Screenplay (for Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan), Best Original Song ("The Hands that Built America", by U2), Best Sound Mixing (Tom Fleischman, Eugene Gearty and Ivan Sharrock), Best Art Direction (for Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo), Best Cinematography (for Michael Ballhaus), Best Costume Design (for Sandy Powell) and Best Film Editing (for Thelma Schoonmaker). It was also nominated for five Golden Globes at the 60th Golden Globe Awards, and won two; Best Director for Scorsese and Best Song for "The Hands That Built America" by U2. It was also nominated for twelve BAFTA Awards at the 56th British Academy Film Awards, and won one; Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis.
- BAFTAs: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Chicago Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Florida Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director (Martin Scorsese)
- Golden Globes: Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Original Song (U2 for "The Hands That Built America")
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Original Song (U2 for The Hands That Built America)
- Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti)
- New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Online Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- San Diego Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Satellite Awards: Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti), Best Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
- Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director (Martin Scorsese)
- Vancouver Film Critics Circle: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
In March 2013 it was announced that Scorsese was teaming with Miramax Films and GK Films to produce a television series based on the film. It would draw on events surrounding organized gangs at the turn of the 20th century and shortly thereafter, not only in New York but in such cities as Chicago.
- "159m 51s" run time
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- (RE)VIEWS: Vincent DiGirolamo "Such, Such Were the B'hoys..." – Radical History Review, Fall 2004 (90): 123–41; doi:10.1215/01636545-2004-90-123 Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese. Miramax Films, 2002, rhr.dukejournals.org; accessed November 10, 2014.
- Johnson, Michael. "The New York Draft Riots", Reading the American Past, 2009, p. 295
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