Gangs of New York ★★★★★

One of 2002's best films, Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" is a historical epic built on the director's most recognizable narrative tropes. Corruption, crime, and the American dream collide in 1863's New York City much like they do in many of the master's other films. Here, they result in a work that is robust and rousing, violent and appealing. Scorsese, once again, creates a stellar cinematic work.

Unfolding in a mid-19th century New York City, "Gangs of New York" tells a story of rival factions fighting for prominence and survival in a near lawless era. With the Civil War and abolitionism raging, so-called Nativists wage an ugly battle against immigrants, freed slaves, and politicians. Led by Bill Cutting, the Nativists harass and harangue their enemies until a certain mole infiltrates Bill "the Butcher's" inner-circle.

The film may take place nearly 150 years ago, but the themes and story beats are classic Scorsese. "Gangs of New York" is another NYC-based tale where ethnic mix of individuals battle it out for legitimacy. Syndicates of unsavory characters interact with others of their ilk, stabbing,slicing, and otherwise maneuvering their way to the top. It is the underbelly of the American dream where success is taken, never given; and it is taken by means of force.

It is a compelling story, pulsing with fictitious and factual moments, and it is presented excellently. Scorsese's trademark camera and cutting, thanks to Thelma Schoonmaker, are fully on display. There is a visual motion and verve supplied by a swiftness of camera and a quickness of editing. The film is sumptuously designed, exuding period flare that ranges from the grime of Five Points to the relative glamour of the wealthier sections of Manhattan. Thieves dens glow with flickering honey-toned lights, while marble halls gleam with crisp clarity.

As Bill the Butcher, Daniel Day-Lewis is remarkable. He is sinister and repulsive, yet he exudes a deviant magnetism. It is a masterful role of voice and action, and it creates a dangerous and larger-than-life villain. Leonardo diCaprio provides a driven foil to Day-Lewis's character, while Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, and Liam Neeson add solid support. Each actor is strong, though none can take Day-Lewis's spotlight.

Excellently performed, memorably assembled, and engrossingly told, "Gangs of New York" is yet another achievement for its great director. It is a brash and swift epic that revels in telling a dark chapter of New York City's history. It is a grand piece of work that shines on every cinematic level.

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