Martin Scorsese is in bravura filmmaker mode with Gangs of New York, an overlong and bloody historical epic.Day-Lewis towers over the other characters as real-life gang-leader William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting who unofficially ruled the poverty-stricken “Five Points” of New York during the 1860s. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Jim Broadbent all shine to a lesser degree in key roles.
The picture looks sumptuous but slowly derails, with the climactic gang confrontation upstaged by the racist anti-draft riots uptown. Forty-five minutes was apparently cut and it must have been here - meaning is sacrificed amongst the frantic cross-cutting, all manner of timing inconsistencies emerge and we’re expected to believe the gangs persisted with their skirmish while the wider rampage continued in force. When an escaped elephant lumbers across the screen, it’s hard not to see it as a metaphor for an out-of-control film. Subplots like the election and murder of a sheriff could have easily been lost instead.Scorsese contributes some stunning camerawork and imagery - lots of blood on snow. He attributes Bill the Butcher’s hold on power to showy violence. “If someone steals from me, I cut off his hand”, Bill remarks at one point. It only left me painfully aware of the sadism with which Scorsese continually promises - and delivers - increasingly gruesome acts of brutality. It was hard to feel anything but relief when Gangs was finally over.