GANGS OF NEW YORK tells the story of New York City in the mid 19th Century and the trials and tribulations of the immigrant Irish people as they come up against rampant prejudice from the “native” protestant Americans born in the country. The movie follows the life of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), the son of a Catholic Priest (a minor role played by Liam Neeson) in the rough Five Points area of New York.
The tone of the movie is set in the first five minutes as the nine-year-old Amsterdam is given a medallion of Michael and blessed by his father. Soon they move through the bowels of an abandoned brewery, a bizarre wooden structure that is a dark combination of a church, condominium, brothel, and catacombs, as they prepare to battle against an enemy. Men and hard-looking women are gathering weapons of all types and are soon marching out-of-doors into a snowy town square that is the center of Five Points.
In a minute, 100 men with various weapons appear opposite them and array for combat. The “natives” are a combination of street gangs, as are the Irish that the camera follows outside. The leader of the Americans is Bill-the-Butcher, played with sick fierceness by Daniel Day-Lewis. Billy the Butcher tells them they are here to drive the foreign pestilence from their shores. The Priest says they will establish once and for all their right to be there and end the harassment placed upon them by “the Butcher’s” tyrannical reign.
In the horrendous battle that ensues, the audience sees every effect of Middle Ages weaponry upon the human body. The Priest battles well against the opposite force as his young son and other children watch nearby. Soon, however, Billy wounds him and the battle comes to a grinding halt. The little boy Amsterdam comes to his father’s stricken side and is there to hear Billy’s proclamation of victory and declaration of “rules” to the surviving Irish. He then stabs a dagger into the heart of the Priest and the little boy runs and hides his father’s dagger and the Saint Michael medal he was given minutes before. He is captured and sent off to a boy’s home and reform school where he apparently stews about revenge.
Sixteen years later, Amsterdam is released from the school, where he hugs the minister, takes a new Bible and heads out the door. The next scene is Amsterdam throwing the bible into the river. Amsterdam’s entire goal is to kill Billy the Butcher, who yearly celebrates the victory over the Irish and his father.
Learning how to survive in the hellhole called Five Points, Amsterdam is soon infiltrating Billy’s gang, and, in a strange twist of fate, becomes a close minion of Billy the Butcher. In the 16 years that have passed, many of the Irishmen who fought in the famous battle turned sides and now work for Billy, even though he constantly abuses their heritage and their people. Amsterdam is in constant danger of being discovered as he gets closer and closer to Billy and is even considered a “son.” He states, “It’s a funny feeling being taken under the wings of the dragon . . . it’s warmer than you think.”
Coinciding with the tension and violence of the rival gangs and corrupt police is the constant pressure of the Civil War on the populace. Apparently, the North, being desperate for troops, began to instate a draft. This draft could be “dodged” legally by paying $300. The average person of the day could not afford this fee, much less a poor immigrant. Soon there are riots in the street that are cruelly crushed by the Army, even going as far as ships shelling the shore from the harbor!
Martin Scorsese delivers a powerful, big scale movie with GANGS OF NEW YORK. Regrettably, it is littered with bodies oozing blood, as well as graphic sex scenes and full nudity. Equally disturbing is Mr. Scorsese’s constant references to God, most of which are spouted by the sick villain, Bill the Butcher, who says that it is Faith that divides the Irish from the Natives. There is even a scene where Amsterdam, Billy and a wealthy, corrupt family are all praying simultaneously for God’s Blessings, as two of the three parties are preparing to carve the hearts out of their enemies. Just as pitiful is the use of Scripture, mostly quotations where King David is asking God to help him trample down his enemies. There is one Protestant Mission that tries to help, but it is basically the brunt of jokes as the bumbling preacher tries to reach the people of the streets.
If one could sum up the GANGS OF NEW YORK in two words they would be “angry” and “cruel.” Scorsese’s premise is that this bloodbath part of history was the beginning of New York City and the United States, and that the patriotism of Billy (rubbed constantly in the viewer’s face), combined with his Xenophobia, is the real problem. It is unclear whether Scorsese created a violent “history” movie, or a not so subtle “anti-American” film by his constant use of traditional symbols being tied to the antagonist (who literally wraps himself in the flag for one scene). It is clear he is preaching from his “pulpit,” and it’s an anti-god, anti-American, anti-religion message. God fearing and patriotic audiences, whether Catholic or Protestant, will be offended.
GANGS OF NEW YORK is a dark, violent and disturbing “gangster” movie. This is possibly the most blood spilled on screen since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and GLADIATOR. Many wise and moral audiences will avoid supporting Scorsese’s elaborate and expensive method of using his art to take a potshot at the United States of America and at God.
Scorsese is part of the 1960s anti-war generation that, instead of trying to reform the U.S. government policies that created so many terrible mistakes and so much destruction during the Vietnam War, translated their anger against that war into an anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian, leftist ideology. GANGS OF NEW YORK seems to reflect the same kind of revisionist thinking, to a large extent.
EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the Civil War Society’s website (http://www.civilwarhome.com/draftriots.htm), “With a large and powerful Democratic [sic] party operating in the city, a dramatic show of dissent had been long in the making. The state’s popular governor, Democrat Horatio Seymour, openly despised Lincoln and his policies.” After Lincoln’s government started the draft in New York City July of 1863, thousands of angry citizen, many of whom were poor Irish and German immigrants upset about low wages during a time of high inflation, terrorized the city, destroying the draft office, looting, burning, tearing up railroad tracks, and even murdering civilians, including several black people. The rioters were also upset because wealthy people could afford to pay for a substitute to serve in the armed forces if they were drafted, but the poor could not. Thus, well-dressed people and homes of wealthy Republicans were also attacked. These facts demonstrate that the Northern states were not completely united during the Civil War, nor was the North immune from prejudice and racism against the black population. Also noteworthy is the fact that most of the white families in the South, and most of the soldiers fighting for the Confederacy, did not own black slaves. Finally, while it is true that there was a “Nativist,” anti-immigrant movement in the North, that does not mean that the United States government shouldn’t control the borders and regulate the assimilation of immigrants, especially non-English speaking immigrants.
Please address your comments to:
Bob and Harvey Weinstein
375 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (323) 822-4100 & (212) 941-3800
Fax: (212) 941-3846
(AbAb, B, C, APAPAP, Acap, RHRH, PC, Ho, LL, VVV, SSS, NNN, AA, DD, MMM) Anti-Christian worldview with both Protestants and Catholics portrayed as conflicted and double-minded and the one true Christian portrayed as a joke with some biblical and Christian elements with many varied portrayals of Roman Catholic Irish immigrant life and very strong anti-patriotic and some anti-capitalist themes with villain wrapping himself up in the American flag and several symbolic, cynical statements referencing the American dream as well as revisionist history in over-the-top and one-sided portrayals and politically correct portrayal of immigration issues in U.S. history; homosexual cross dressing; strong language with about seven strong obscenities, seven milder obscenities, and seven profanities; extreme violence with mobster, fear-based street rule, "eye for an eye" violence, torture and cruelty; extremely graphic sexual depictions, even in open bar/brothel settings; full nudity; several alcohol and smoking portrayals; and, intimidation, betrayal, revenge, prejudice, lying, stealing, cheating, gambling, etc.
GENRE: Drama/Historical Fiction