"America was born in the streets", says the movie. Well, they did not have to
make a movie to tell us that - M/s George Bush, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice
have shown that time and again, more so in the past one year. Not to mention the
US Presidents of the yore.
Gangs Of New York is set in 1862. This was the period when America was torn with strife - violent mobs, discrimination based on colour and creed, street fighting, shootouts etc. were all more normal than sunrise or sunset. Come to think of it, things have not really changed much, have they?
But, America was besieged with another issue, and of much more far-reaching and graver consequences - the influx of immigrants, especially from Ireland during the Potato famine. The immigrants were ripe for being drafted into the army. Their lives were expendable. The native New Yorkers considered them schmuck. Anarchy or, more appropriately, jungle law prevailed. The natives formed gangs that enslaved blacks and immigrants. It was the big fry eating the little fry. Until one man, Priest Vallone (Liam Neeson) decided to change it.
Vallone headed a gang called the Dead Rabbits. He was the leader of all the Irish immigrants. William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) headed the gang of natives. The two gangs clash but the Dead Rabbits are heavily outnumbered. The butcher kills Vallone, but his son, hardly 6 then, escapes. This was in 1846.
Sixteen years later, the son, who calls himself Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), returns to avenge his father's death. He does it the good old-fashioned Hindi Cinema way - become the most trusted man of the goon, and then kill him when the time is right. The first attempt ends in near disaster. Amsterdam is left half-dead, and is nursed back to life by Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz).
Amsterdam then forms a gang of his own and challenges the butcher. This is when all hell breaks loose. While the Natives and the Dead Rabbits are assembling at Paradise Square for combat, the disgruntled immigrants attack the drafting office. The law enforcing bodies pound the city with guns and grenades. No one knows how many people died on that day. No one even knows who these people were. But it was after this mayhem that the foundations of New York, as we know today, were laid.
The film has honest performances from all its cast. DiCaprio shows that he can be more than the Jack of Titanic that we have come to associate him with. Daniel Day-Lewis was born for his role. He is mean, ruthless, and a conniving heartless wolf. The direction and the cinematography justify the many awards it has been honored with. But the background score could have been a lot more appropriate. It sounds more like a number peppered with beats - just right for a dance floor.
This is one movie that could be adjudged either of the two extremes - a piece
of art or a bowl of crap - depending on individual tastes. There is no middle