Meaner Streets

Martin Scorsese looks at the roots of New York's violence, with mixed results

Mob scene: Daniel Day-Lewis (second from left) and Leonardo DiCaprio (center) give us history as well as action in Gangs of New York.
Mob scene: Daniel Day-Lewis (second from left) and Leonardo DiCaprio (center) give us history as well as action in Gangs of New York.

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Rated R

Ah, yes, Our Hero. After fighting his way through production designer Dante Ferretti's impressive collection of filthy tenements, bloody slaughterhouses and violent saloons -- all of them constructed, at huge expense, on Rome's famed Cinecitta back lot -- Amsterdam Vallon finds his true calling. First he must slay Bill the Butcher, the king of the Old Guard. Then, bloodied but unbowed, he must take Jenny into his embrace and lead his people up from slavery. The pseudo-Biblical elements of this quest, combined with the broader turmoil of the Civil War, make for a rather muddied political picture. But atmosphere always outranks plot in a Scorsese movie, and he deftly keeps us on the hook with a dazzling fury of lynchings, riots, cannon fusillades, political assassinations and sexual assignations -- all of them calculated to keep our blood pressure high and our eyes glued to the screen. We are, after all, in New York, New York -- the city that never sleeps. Scorsese's bloody, bombastic vision of an urban behemoth on the make may be confused and overwrought, but the long wait for Gangs is not without its rewards.

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