Hadn’t seen a movie in 6 months until a few days ago when I went to the Two Towers, and just last night I watched Gangs of New York. Seeing two excellent movies within the space of a 100 hours or so makes me wonder why I don’t go to the movies more often. Then I look at movie listings and see celluloid atrocities like this, or just light but mediocre fare such as this and I remember, “Oh right, that’s why.”

I also recall that it now typically costs about nine dollars to get into the theater. But hey, these aren’t your parents’ movie houses . This is a new breed of super theater, for which mad scientists from Argentina were enlisted to help combine the DNA of a normal theater and of the space shuttle to engineer a new form of film-watching technology so advanced that can deliver the ultimate sensory-entertainment experience, one so powerful that, should it fall into the wrong hands, could be used as a weapon of mass destruction capable of doing to an entire city what the Ark of the Covenant did to those Nazis in Indiana Jones.

Forget weapons grade uranium. We have to make sure Saddam Hussein hasn’t had access to any AMCs.

Anyway, the point of this post was not to bitch (except in the general sense of this entire blog being a forum for bitchiness), but to laud Gangs of New York, and encourage others to see it as well (after you’ve seen The Two Towers. Twice . Charles Dickens and others have written accounts (most likely to some degree sensationalistic) about their visits to the Five Points and described the place as a pocket of complete barbarism, vice and squalor. Scorcese captures perfectly, if not the historical reality (recent archeological efforts and examinations of other existing written records have led to the belief that the Five Points wasn’t nearly as bad as its reputation might suggest), then at least that mythic literary reality of New York’s most famous slum.

There is, however, one well-known historical character in the movie: William Tweed, the archetypical example of political corruption and cronyism in any American history class. Again, how accurate his written character is I will leave to those more knowledgable than I, but watching he and his Tammany Hall cohorts wrangling politically, buying political influence, and looking at a pile of dead Irishmen killed in a riot as “a lot of lost votes” is at least entertaining.

But more than anything, watching Daniel Day-Lewis outdo every other actor on the screen as if it was in his blood is alone worth the price of admission .

Here, Lewis is able to go full tilt with all of that energy, charisma and relish and combine it with a certain amount of subdued disappearance into the character. He sports a truly weird accent and vocal affectations that never seem put on. He swaggers and whimpers, goes through violent rages and tender moments, and never makes you question why he’s doing it, because you believe it’s what Butcher Bill would do.

As a point of comparison, see “Gangs of New York” and wait for the knife throwing scene in the Chinese theater. When Bill says “Whoopsy daisy!”, compare that in your head to the “Here’s Johnny!” bit in The Shining and ask yourself if it works the same way. Are you watching Lewis having fun on screen or Bill having fun in 1860’s New York?

last update : 19-4-2018

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