Long in gestation, Martin Scorsese’s dream project came to the big screen earlier this year in a blaze of hype and anticipation. It was feted by the A.M.P.A.S and received Ten Oscar nominations, yet no awards. Polarizing critical opinion and burgeoned under the weight of expectation, Gangs of New York had to be an awe-inspiring movie to satisfy the cinema going public and, to this reviewers disappointment, it didn’t quite manage it.
That said, this film does pack in a wealth of intelligent and interesting ideas and narratives into its near full three hour running time. The decision to anchor the period detail and history to a revenge story has been mocked by many critics, personally I feel that the central story of Leonardo DiCaprio avenging the death of his father is perfectly acceptable, rather it is problems with the storytelling as a whole that hampers Gangs of New York. Notice I say ‘as a whole’ when referring to the storytelling, this is because for the first two hours, the movie has an incredible dramatic drive and purpose, populated by a number of memorable characters, none more so Daniel Day Lewis’s mesmerizing turn as Bill the Butcher.
It is in the seemingly rushed third act that, for me, the film falls apart. Perhaps it’s the fact that there is a surfeit of ideas fighting for attention or perhaps it is that those ideas aren’t given free space to breathe but, nevertheless, the ending feels hurried and lacking in dramatic punch. Which is a great shame because what comes before it is so richly textured and accomplished that watching such a weak ending leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It is by no means Scorsese’s finest work and fans of his technique may find their desires unfulfilled however, this is still a great achievement in the fields of design, performance and direction and a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.
To watch Gangs of New York online is a fairly immersive audio experience, featuring, at times, excellent LFE and good spatial sound use. Discreet sound effects aren’t as present as you would expect but when they do feature they are delivered well.
Featuring a great commentary from Scorsese that papers over the long silences with literate content when he is talking, this disc has a good set of extras on hand. Granted it is a bit design heavy but all the features are nicely produced and insightful, with the tour of the set being particularly interesting, they really did build all those sets. The trailer selection is interesting, mainly for the fact that the teaser is frankly appauling, and the music video from U2 is a welcome free extra. This may not be the best set of extras in the world, it is lacking a certain amount of overall depth, but it is a perfectly acceptable collection and a real pleasure to watch and hear Scorsese’s words.
A movie that has the power to disappoint is unleashed online that has similar powers up its sleeve, when the DVD is good, it is very good but when it is bad it is thoroughly under whelming.