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Movie Review: "Gangs of New York"

In some ways, this movie is a mishmash, because it attempts to compress several true stories into one film, and doing that is always problematical, even if you do have two hours and forty-eight minutes.

Part of the film tells the story of the fights and conflicts between the Irish who were immigrating to this country in great numbers between the Irish potato famine of 1845-46, and the US Civil War, and the "nativists" who hated everything non-American, and particularly Catholics, who they viewed at the time as being ruled by the Pope.

Then there's another part which talks about the draft riots that occurred in New York in 1863, after the Union began its first draft of soldiers, shows how you could get out of it for $300 (a huge sum of money in those days), and culminating in the riots which burned parts of New York for four days, and even hit the wealthy parts of town, then as now, along Fifth Avenue.

Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting, leader of the "natives", who at the beginning of the film kills an Irish leader, Priest Vallon, played by Liam Neeson in what amounts to not much more than a cameo. His small son, Amsterdam, witnesses this, and 17 years later returns, suddenly looking like Leonardo DiCaprio, and much of the rest of the film talks about the personal conflict between these two.

Priest and Amsterdam Vallon aren't real individuals, but composites (and although "Priest" dresses like a priest, it's not made clear whether he really is one, and of course if he is, why would he have a son?

However, Bill Cutting really existed, and other real people, among them Horace Greeley, and the head of NY's Tammany Hall, William "Boss" Tweed, who's played by the English actor Jim Broadbent as a feckless loser controlled by the gangs.

Cameron Diaz has a nice role as Jenny, Amsterdam's love interest, and an accomplished pickpocket.

Don't get me wrong -- I did like this film. It captures you and delivers nonstop action, but I'll warn you it's tremendously bloody. It just didn't seem to me to wrap itself up in a neat little package, although the final scene is one of immense power.

This is a terrific directorial achievement by Martin Scorsese, although my vote for the DGA director's award is going to Roman Polanski, as I mentioned in yesterday's review.

But I think the motion picture Academy is going to honor Scorsese for this effort.

AYRating: *** 1/2