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Gangs of New York

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Last week I saw Gangs of New York.

Sometimes, I see a movie and I can’t decide what I think of it. About 2/3rds of the time, this means I didn’t like it. About a third of the time, I decide that I liked it. Occasionally, it turns out I liked it a lot.

I didn’t like Gangs of New York.

Daniel Day-Lewis was very good. Oscar-worthy. But beyond that: eeennnh.

I am not in the Leonardo DiCaprio haters club. I think he is a highly talented actor, and I thought Scorsese would have been able to pull the best out of him. It didn’t happen. I never liked the character, nor sympathized with him, nor even felt compelled by him. I was, mostly, vaguely annoyed with him.

I also like Cameron Diaz. She clearly tried hard to give a great dramatic performance. Somehow, it didn’t gel.

That mostly was describes my whole opinion of the movie. I wanted to like almost everything about this movie, and wound up liking very little.

I found myself not caring what happened to either the hero or heroine. When it came to the good guys’ cause vs. the bad guys’ cause, I found myself sympathizing with neither. It was like watching Idi Amin in a cage match with Fidel Castro. You’re going to cheer for… who? (In fairness, Scorsese may have been going for just that. But if so, he did a bit too good a job of it.)

The special effects and the scenery were compelling. The subject matter was also promising. Indeed, 19th century urban America is a tremendously interesting subject, with tons of potential for great movies. With any luck, Gangs of New York will inspire others to explore this as a genre.

But what you’ve got here is basically just a bunch of gritty, dirty, not particularly likeable people doing nasty, unpleasant stuff for causes it’s hard to care much about. And you get a generous three hours worth of it, too.

Mind you, I suspect it will win an Oscar anyway, just so Scorsese–who is, I believe, the greatest living American director–will finally have one. They give away plenty of questionable Oscars anyway, so why not?

Now, as you might expect, the movie is also riddled with historical inaccuracies. That doesn’t usually bug me much, because they are just movies after all. But ya know, when you find out about the real history, and you realize that things that actually happened would make a better story than the one the moviemakers made up, it tends to annoy you. And that, alas, is also true of Scorsese’s latest effort.

Speaking of which, City Journal has an excellent historical piece which both talks about the movie, and the real history of the era it tries to capture. It’s a dynamite article, whether you saw the movie or not (and thanks to Gary Utter for sending it my way).

What I most especially liked was how you could see from it that, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I suppose that brings me to the main thing I did like about the movie: the way it’ll probably spur conversations about the history, the time and place it was set in. But then, you knew I loved history, right? 🙂

(This article originally appeared on Dean’s World, where we defend the liberal tradition 24/7. Feel free to stop by any time!

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About Dean Esmay

  • andy

    eh. At least we get a new U2 song out of it.