Gangs of New York ★★★★

This is Martin Scorsese's kung-fu movie, sans actual martial arts but with more than enough "You killed my father" and a typical kung-fu hero journey to make up for the lack of kicking. You've got an underdog protagonist, a colorful ornery villain with henchmen, a love interest with ties to both sides, and a build-up to an inevitable fight scene. I don't care what you say. This is a kung-fu movie.

This movie's too long, probably too ambitious, and kind of gets a little saggy in places where Cameron Diaz's character is involved. I guess I can't complain about the length because this movie is really a spaghetti western as well as a kung-fu movie. The story meanders a little like they usually do in spaghetti westerns. I have no idea whether or not this is historically accurate and if things really meandered this way, but none of that matters to me anyway.

The gang names are cool and almost inspired me to start my own gang just so I can name it. You always hear about pop culture influencing young people to make poor decisions. If I do form a gang, go ahead and assume that I did it only because of Martin Scorsese. The Forty Thieves, The Dead Rabbits, The Bowery Boys. Those are cool names. Of course, there's also a gang named the Pansies which, truth be told, is probably the gang I would end up in. I can see myself as a Pansy. And then there are the Shirt Tales (maybe Shirt Tails) which just makes me think of the cartoon from the 80's.

I'd like to see a remake of Gangs of New York with those guys actually. I want to see Daniel Day-Lewis stab that monkey to death.

By the way, that Daniel Day-Lewis is a pretty good actor, and he's even better when you give him a ridiculous mustache. The wardrobe helps, but if you take him out of this movie and insert anybody else, the movie's not as good. And that's a sign that you've got yourself a special performance. I mean, I think I would have been happy sitting through 167 minutes of terrible movie just to hear him say the word "excrementitious" in this. The character of Bill is complex, one of those bad guys you almost want to root for just because he's so damned interesting. Poor DiCaprio can't keep up and has a shifty accent, but the relationship between those characters--one filled with subtle and lingering stares and even some hand-holding--is dynamic from start to finish. But man, that Daniel Day-Lewis. It's the kind of performance you love more because he's restrained most of the time, making the really intense moments that much more intense. And it's the type of performance where you want to discuss things like posture and hunching and eyebrows and finger points and the way he can wear a top hat better than anybody else in the history of film. That's why he was chosen to play Lincoln actually. There are other good performances in this movie--John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson (playing himself), Jim Broadbent--but Day-Lewis is always who you want to watch whenever he happens to be on the screen.

Seriously, if you can wear outfits like his in this movie and still win awards, you're doing something right.

I remember watching this when it came out and being amazed by the opening fight scene, one that builds in intensity. I had my son watch it with me, setting it up with a "Hey, Dylan--watch this fight scene," but I think he was underwhelmed. It's increasingly graphic, increasingly quick, and increasingly chaotic, and the camera angles and editing made what could have been just another fight scene with characters we don't even know and therefore don't even care about into something that I had never seen before.

Scorsese made an interesting choice to use Sonny Terry in this. That harmonica and whooping is recognizable, and it's therefore anachronistic. I liked hearing it though. Of course, I always like hearing Sonny Terry. My favorite musical moment in this, however, is this guy playing a hammer dulcimer as a fight is starting. He starts playing it a little more uproariously once the fight actually begins. I need a guy with a hammer dulcimer to follow me around just in case I ever get into a rumble.

Regardless of whether or not any of this is true, it does manage to remind us that these were tumultuous times in our history and that our country has a foundation of racism, violence, and criminal activity. It makes the experience a cynical one, doesn't it?