"Gangs of New York" arrives soaked in the sweat and tears of one of cinema's greatest living artists. Martin Scorsese has nurtured this brutal, astonishing creation through a 25-year development process and a troubled shoot.
The result is the culmination of a lifetime's worth of obsessions - with violence, God, loyalty and the US. It both astounds and enthrals, providing a riveting exploration of America's dark heart.
New York, 1846 - a brutal gang battle turns the snowy ground muddy with blood. Fifteen years later Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the Five Points district of Manhattan to avenge his father's death at the hands of Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Leader of the anti-immigrant 'Native Americans' gang, Bill rules the neighbourhood with fear. Still, he happily employs this street-savvy unknown, who begins to find the father he lost in the man he must kill.
"Hamlet" is an obvious influence on the screenwriters and the plot isn't the only factor reminiscent of the stage. There's an expansive, histrionic aspect to Day-Lewis' phenomenal performance as the arch villain, and a theatrical quality to the dialogue, which frequently appropriates biblical language.
There's nothing stage-bound about the action, though - the violent, gripping spectacle that plays out against a perfectly realised recreation of 19th century New York.
DiCaprio quietly impresses, as does Cameron Diaz as his pickpocket squeeze, but their story is secondary to Scorsese's thematic concerns, as a simple tale of revenge escalates into a portrait of class, race and religious war - an incendiary assault on the foundations of the so-called land of the free.
The finished picture may not be as assured or well-paced as Scorsese's best works - "GoodFellas", "Taxi Driver" - but it has the energy and passion of "Mean Streets" writ large. A work of staggering ambition, grandeur and terrible beauty. In a word: majestic.