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reviews /  member dvd review
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Gangs of New York (movie)
by: Christian Bodart  03 november 04
rating: rating of 1

The American Dream lying aborted in the streets
Martin Scorsese has done a fair few good films in his time, in fact you'd be hard pushed to find one that's less than watchable in the (almost) half decade that he's been directing, hard pushed that is until now.

I'll be honest though, I acoided watching this film during all the hype and hysteria. I wanted to wash away the cries of its ahistoricity and all the hype that surrounds and big block buster - you know how Day Lewis came out of retirement for this movie and all that guff. I wanted to be objective and fair, I wanted to put aside my dislike for Leonardo and Diaz and my unfair belief that neither of them have ever been in a genuinely good movie. But somehow this movie acts as proof positive of their ineptitude.

First however I'll make a few things clear:

1) There are two sorts of fictionalised historical films; the first attempts to be genuine in it's rendering of the past and thus can sometimes be dull (like Master and Commander) and the second is cartoonish and camp and bear almost no relation to reality and for children like (Pirates of the Caribbean)
2) Movies that at the end the person wakes up and it's all a dream are 9 times out of 10 a crap out.

So, in the hugely melodramatic beginning 'flashback' of this film we are told that we are watching the memories and dreams of a child. Which you think would explain the preposterous characters we are exposed to (a women with filed teeth and clawed gloves, Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now smearing himself in camo to name a couple), not to mention vast scenery more akin to Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome or the Matrix:Rewound. This is all well and good as it is a child's imaginings but sadly the film never seems to part company with this simplistic, exagerrated and childlike world. Which would be great if it was either a camp kids film and just a really ripping yarn with lots of over the top exploits, bawdyness and fun, but it's not.

In fact Scorsese seems to combine the worst elements of the two sorts of historical film I mentioned above. Battering you to death simulatenously with politics and pseudo-historicity but all the while maintaining a campness and silliness closer to Star Wars Episode 1 than Pirates of the Caribean. Leanordo is totally out of his depth and Diaz is as fish-faced and flirtaciously fickle as ever. As for Lewis, well he is a great actor and he does really get into Scorsese's vision of Ye Olde Time New York which sadly renders him as a cardboard and cartoonish a caricature as any in the film.

Seeing the stylistic pomp of fantasy films like Moulin Rouge, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter being used in purportedly historical films like this worries me deeply especially when it comes for a director who has already developed a strong (urban) mythic-realist style of his own.

Perhaps Disneyland has finally taken over America now that Frankenstein's Monster and the Crazy Coyote are vying for its presidency.

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