Gangs of New York

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 12/28/02 14:45:41

"A fantastic Scorsese flick infected with the Weinstein 'love story' virus."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Say what you will about Leo DiCaprio; he's a royal pain in the ass, he thinks he's God's gift to women, he's a poe-faced teenage lesbian, he can't grow a beard, but the fact is the guy can act. In this, a Martin Scorsese epic based on a compelling and largely forgotten part of America's history, Leo could have brought the whole thing undone, turning a big budget blockbuster into a commercially-oriented, cookie cutter romance aimed at teenage girls. To his credit, he does no such thing, but Harvey Weinstein does, throwing Cameron Diaz into the mix as a completely miscast love interest in a film that has no place for such trivialities. And that's the only thing stopping this from being a masterwork.

You probably wouldn't know it if you depended on the US school system for your education, but back in the day New York City was a pretty gruesome place. Streetgangs ruled the city. No, not the drive-by drug-dealing wannabe rap star gangs of today, we're talking gangs based on religion, ethnicity and language, where beefs were played out according to rules of war and guns were thrown aside in favor of clubs, machetes, daggers and razors. These gangs didn't just brawl to pass the time, they actively engaged in business, politics and the law, with the powers that be realizing that the support of the gangs meant a rather large chunk of the voting population was ticking your name on the electoral ballot.

In this film, a streetgang war brings down the leader (Liam Neeson) of an Irish Catholic group known as the Dead Rabbits. The archrival Natives, led by a fellow known affectionately as The Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis) gather to celebrate this famous victory every year on the anniversary of their win, but the son of the fallen Irishman (Leonardo DiCaprio) spends his next sixteen years in an orphanage, waiting for the day when he can get revenge.

Upon release from the orphanage, Leo works his way into the Natives gang, eventually becoming the Butcher's trusted lieutenant. And to that point, this is an absolutely phenomenal movie.

But then the infected, pus-filled, commercially conscious, marketing driven hand of Miramax steps in, announcing that if they're going to spend all this money on a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, "there better be fucking love interest" (I don't know if Harvey Weinstein said those words or not, but I can almost hear them in my head).

And so, the company that wanted Chasing Amy to star Drew Barrymore and David Schwimmer brings in Cameron Diaz, a woman well into her 30's, as the love interest for a kid playing a 20-year-old, in a movie that has so little to do with romance that it's like adding a scene with a wise-cracking fish into a Godfather sequel.

I mean (and get comfortable, I predict I'm going to rant here) what the fuck do people even see in Cameron Diaz? How overrated can this person possibly be? In The Mask she was said to have made a 'stunning debut', when in actual fact she just pretended to sing and wired her breasts so they'd stand upright. Then in There's Something About Mary she was said to have great comic timing, when in actual fact she simply schmeared semen in her hair. Janet Reno could have handled that much comic timing. Then she's 'superhot' in Charlie's Angels, a flick that contained one superhot chick (Lucy Liu), one pudgy but cute chick (Drew Barrymore) and one rather tall, rather uncurvy, rather flat-faced chick (Diaz). Let's be honest, menfolk, Cameron Diaz looks like she's been smacked in the face with a rather large shovel. If Mike Tyson had her nose, he'd be even scarier than he is. Her head looks like a football - she could be the kid from Hey Arnold.

So now we have Gangs of New York, a really interesting, elaborately constructed action drama, that's going along at a mighty pace with blood and guts and edge of your seat battles, and then there's a fucking football-headed old woman making the moves on Leonardo DiCaprio, tying up a good half hour of a film that's already going to be a long one.

And on top of that, she's playing one of the most detestable characters that have ever been passed of as a romantic lead. She's a whore, she's screwing the guy who killed Leo's father, she's a petty thief, she looks like she's been wacked about the head with the ugly stick until she bled from the ears, and to top it all off, she and Leo have all the chemistry of David Letterman and Madonna. We're talking different planets here, people.

Look, I'm no fan of movie stars that think they're larger than life and can do anything they please, but if Leo decided to act up on the set of this film, I don't blame him. I would have acted up too. I'd have told the big bossman that he's a commercially-minded hack, I'd have insisted that the love scenes be deleted from the script and I'd have made damn sure that if they were filmed, that every scene was unusable. And more than that, I'd have demanded danger money for having to rub up against Flathead Diaz without protective clothing.

Let me say it one last time - there was no need for any romance in this movie. The action sequences are awesome, Daniel Day Lewis, as the villain of the piece, is totally without peer. He is truly as good as he can be in this role and a dead-set shoe-in for the Best Supporting Oscar. Leo DiCaprio has long made up for Titanic and Man in the Iron Mask. Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, any number of others, all top notch. In fact, if you extract every scene containing Cameron Diaz from this film, I'd call it one of the finer films of this, or any year. Scorsese's people have reconstructed a time and place that live only in lithographs and fourteenth-hand accounts of the era in question. The cinematography... immaculate. The score... there when it should be, absent when it should be absent, in other words perfection.

On every single count, I can only find petty flaws with this film, the kind of flaws you have to be a student of film to notice and give a rats ass about. With the exception of one.

Notice to the people at 'Cleanflicks': Release a DVD version of this film with all of Cameron Diaz's scenes deleted and I'll buy the thing. I'm sure thousands would. Like For Love of the Game, there's a fantastic movie under the surface here, unfortunately it's smothered to death by romantic ass-istry that only to serves to bore the thick-headed and annoy the intelligent.

Sorry Marty, next time you want to make an epic, make it for a company that hasn't based it's existence on Mickey fucking Mouse.

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