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Miramax Pictures presents

Gangs of New York (2002)

"I'm 47. Forty-seven years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? Fear. Fearsome acts. A man steals from me, I cut off his hand. If he lies to me, I cut out his tongue. If he stands up against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, and lift it up for all to see. A spectacle of fearsome acts. That’s what maintains the order of things. Fear."- Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis)

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis
Other Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleason, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: R for (extremely graphic violence, adult language, some nudity/sexuality)
Run Time: 02h:46m:22s
Release Date: 2003-07-01
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-B+ B


DVD Review

Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York is the kind of thing that Hollywood legends are made of. Rumors ran rampant about its out-of-control budget, its production delays, its enormous Cinecittà sets, and its release was continually delayed. When I went to see it on its opening day, I remember my reaction as being fairly muted. I admired Scorsese's ambition, was blown away by the visuals, and glad to see Daniel Day-Lewis return to the screen in one of his most brilliant performances. However, I just wasn't knocked out. Yet, when I saw it a second time the following day, I was able to internalize the film, accept its flaws, and embrace its brilliance.

The story plays like an Americanized version of Hamlet. As a young boy, Amsterdam Vallon witnesses the death of his father, the Irish immigrant "Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson), at the hands of Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a bloody gangland battle. The battle provides the backdrop, setting the story in mid-19th century New York and locating it in the slums of the Five Points. History is not Scorsese's objective here, as evident by the use of Peter Gabriel's metallic guitar score during the opening battle. Instead Scorsese is delving into a mythical land—a land that will forge his Mean Streets and Raging Bull.

When Amsterdam returns as a man, now played by Leonardo DiCaprio, he plans to seek vengeance on Bill the Butcher. However, the revenge plot and its inevitable conclusion are not Scorsese's true interest. Gangs of New York is not so much about the content being discussed and acted out by its characters, but rather about the context of the world in which they live. Scorsese has a clear love for New York City and in Gangs of New York he presents a turning point in the city's character. Amsterdam and his eventual girlfriend, Jenny (Cameron Diaz), represent the future of New York while Day-Lewis' seductive, intriguing Bill represents the past.

Considering Scorsese's aim of making a film that encapsulates the identity of New York and America, everyone should tip their hats to him. The technical aspects of the film are topnotch. Years from now people will be looking back at Dante Ferretti's sets and marvel at the detail that is presented by a physical set as opposed to the unfortunate trend into digital technology. The marvelously rich colors and depth in Michael Ballhaus' cinematography give the grand scope of the great epics from the 1950s and '60s. And once again, Thelma Schoonmaker has edited a film to perfection, seamlessly shifting between suspense, action, and emotion.

However, there are flaws that cannot be ignored. DiCaprio just isn't the leading man that this story necessitates. Day-Lewis is so strong in his role that it is difficult to imagine DiCaprio's Amsterdam as being able to put up a formidable fight. The love story between Amsterdam and Jenny is not especially compelling and is never developed in a significant way. Some of Scorsese's musical choices just don't seem to belong in a major epic. Other characters, such as Amsterdam's friend Johnny (Henry Thomas), come across as nothing more than plot devices. But these flaws are forgivable, because Scorsese is making a film about America—a country that, on occasion, makes those very same mistakes of embracing pop culture to its own detriment and treating its own citizens as means to an end.

Gangs of New York is not for everyone, especially those who wish for precise, by-the-numbers entertainment. Like in all of Scorsese's films, the audience is challenged by a director who has complete control over the medium and is encouraging his audience to think. Multiple viewings are necessary for most to be able to make heads-and-tales of all the plot's intricacies; certainly they were for me. In essence, Scorsese has given us a film that at times is brilliant and at other times is a complete mess—but what a glorious mess.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Miramax has given Michael Ballhaus' cinematography a fine, anamorphic transfer. The film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is preserved but, regrettably, spread out over two discs. Colors are vibrant and clearly defined without a trace of bleeding or mosquito noise. Blacks are solid and contrast is well maintained. Fleshtones are consistent and accurate. Depth is present throughout, creating a film-like look. However, considering that this is a new film, there are too many print defects on the screen in this transfer to be excused. None of the defects are terribly distracting, but the idea of Miramax not giving the image the care it deserves does bother me.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Gangs of New York is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The DTS track has a strong, fitting bass, particularly during the opening sequence, and provides some nice rear channel phantom imaging during the climactic riot. The surround speakers get plenty of activity during crowd scenes and the main speakers provide clear ambience to enhance the sound mix. Dialogue is easily understood and the music is well balanced with sound effects. The Dolby Digital track is slightly quieter than the DTS track and has far less bass. Again, dialogue is easily audible and phantom imaging is present during the riot scene. Neither of these two tracks captures the thunderous mix of the theatrical presentation, particularly during Bill's knife-throwing scene. This is a nice effort from Miramax, but not reference quality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kill Bill, Frida DVD, Chicago DVD, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese DVD, The Quiet American DVD
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Martin Scorsese
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:01s (Disc 1); 00h:47m:

Extra Extras:
  1. Five Points Study Guide—an excerpt from Luc Sante’s introduction to Gangs of New York: Making the Movie and a collection of slang terms used in the film.
  2. U2 Music Video of “The Hands That Built America.”
Extras Review: For this two-disc edition of Gangs of New York Miramax has produced a number of extras. The biggest feature for fans will be Martin Scorsese's audio commentary. For those who aren't familiar with his trademark fast talk, the commentary will be hard to follow. In addition, those looking for a great deal of information about the actual making of the film will not find it on this track, but you will find an intimate discussion with a man who loves the cinema.

Also included in this set are documentaries and featurettes. Disc 1 primarily focuses its attention on the technical aspects of the film. A nine-minute interview with Dante Ferretti about the set design has him talking about his history with Scorsese, chronicling their previous collaborations and the research involved with designing Gangs of New York. Following that is Exploring the Sets of Gangs of New York (22m:31s), which follows Scorsese and Ferretti as they walk around the mammoth sets. There is also a function that enables the viewer to take a 360-degree look at each set. The conversation that Scorsese and Ferretti have with one another does not give a great deal of information about the process of building the sets, but it is interesting to have this look and to listen to these two friends talk to one another. The next featurette is an eight-minute look at Sandy Powell's costume designs. Scorsese, Powell, Day-Lewis, Diaz, and Neeson all give interviews about the process that went into the designs and the effect it had on the actors while scenes were filmed. Since not a lot of attention is given to costume design in DVD features, this is perhaps the most interesting special feature of this set.

In addition to production-related featurettes, there is a sampling of historical notes. The Five Points Study Guide gives an excerpt from Luc Sante's (the production's historical consultant) introduction to Gangs of New York: Making the Movie and a list of the slang used by gang members of that period. The History of the Five Points featurette (13m:35s) explores the history of New York at that time and features interviews with filmmakers and actors as well as a host of archival photographs from the period. The featurette isn't long enough to be substantive, but it does have a couple of interesting points. Finally, on Disc 1, the film's original theatrical teaser and trailer are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 screen formats, respectively. Other Miramax titles also have trailers here.

Disc 2 has far fewer extras, so it would have been nice if all of the extras had been dumped here so the film would not have been spread over two discs. Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York (35m:11s) is a Discovery Channel promotional tie-in to the theatrical release. Some interesting anecdotes are given about the making of the film, but this is mostly a history lesson about the Civil War draft riots. There isn't anything new or exciting in this documentary, but it's worth a watch. The only other feature on the second disc is the U2 music video of The Hands That Built America (04m:41s).

All in all, this isn't a great collection of features. Most of the information is fairly surface level, but there are enough interesting comments interspersed that makes the features worth taking a look at. However, I would liked to have seen this set feature the interview Scorsese and Day-Lewis gave on The Charlie Rose Show over any of its current special features.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

This two-disc set from Miramax is a mixed bag. The transfer is a solid presentation of the film, yet not something to brag about. The sound mix is professional, but does not quite have the bite that one would hope. The extras are numerous and diverse, but not as in depth as they should be. Most devastatingly, the film is unnecessarily broken in half and spread over two discs. However, the film's essence is preserved and the hearts of the filmmakers are well presented. If you're a Gangs of New York fan, dish out the 20 bucks.

Nate Meyers 2004-06-24