Yet another in the “I never saw, but I wanted to” file, Gangs of New York came out with guns (and clubs) blazin’ in 2002 and swept the Oscar’s in 2003 with ten nominations, walking away without a single one of them. For a film that received so much critical acclaim, it seems odd it didn’t walk away with an Oscar of some sort, especially considering the strength of the acting and directing in this film. Still, ten nominations is nothing to snuff at and by the time the film hit the home video format, it gained a whole new audience of fans. Six years later the film arrives on the latest digital disc format, Blu-ray, complete with an incredible picture and audio to match.
After being incarcerated as a youth, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) was eventually released back into the world that spurred his family. Amsterdam returned to the five points where he watched his father die at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Dae Lewis). Despite allying himself with Cutting at first, Amsterdam eventually turns on him to exact his revenge for the murder of his father, sparking another war between the Dead Rabbits (led by Amsterdam) and The Natives (led by Cutting). The final battle between two men who were once friends culminates in a bloody finale, bolstered by the town’s revolt against President Lincoln’s draft.
While writing that summary I found it odd that I was able to condense the entire film, which runs near three hours, into a single paragraph. Then I realized that there really isn’t much that happened in the film; the majority of it was merely setting our characters up, getting a sense of the relationships they had with one another, before we had our big exciting finish. It’s much more of a character piece than anything, with plenty of exposition on our three leads, all of whom get their fair share of screen time.
Honestly when I sat down to watch the film I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting to see. Perhaps I expected something more akin to The Departed in terms of action, as Gangs of New York was a very quiet movie aside from the opening and closing acts. I found myself becoming bored with the story around two hours into the film and felt that it dragged on a bit too much with Amsterdam and Cutting’s relationship, as you knew in the back of your head that Amsterdam was always going to betray him, so the constant repetition of their father/son sequences seemed incredibly redundant to me.
One thing that irked me about the film was Daniel Day-Lewis. I don’t have a problem with his performance of Cutting, per say, it’s just that the man seems to play the same character in his films. Cutting yelled, spit and stomped his foot just the same as Lewis’s character from There Will Be Blood did; perhaps it was the physical resemblance, but I really just couldn’t disassociate the two. Both performances were strong, don’t get me wrong, but he seems to hit the same notes repeatedly with the characters I’ve seen him place…and they all seem to get nominated for Oscars.
Despite the near three hour run time, there’s not a whole lot to talk about with Gangs of New York. The exciting intro and finish were the best parts of the film and while the characterization and development of relationships was nice, I really feel it could have been trimmed a bit to not feel quite so fatty and slow moving. I have a high tolerance for films that are considered “boring” (The Assassination of Jesse James being a clear example…but it’s honestly one of the better films I’ve seen this year), but even Gangs of New York seemed to wear on a bit too much for my liking.
Overall Gangs of New York is a fine piece that comes Recommended, but it’s not something I’d go out of your way to see if you haven’t already. After a rousing introduction, the film comes to a screeching halt for two hours before it starts to pick up steam again. By then it’s too late as many will have left the train (film) out of boredom and the payoff is almost too little, too late.
Disney continues to expand its Blu-ray catalog with re-releases of their more high-profile live action films, with Gangs of New York being the latest release. The set comes packed to the gills with extras (all in 480i, unfortunately) and arrives in a standard Blu-ray case with an embossed and chromed Blu-ray logo. Inside is an insert for $10 back for upgrading to this release and the disc and reverse side of the insert which lists the chapter information and includes images from the film.
As I’ve found with a lot of Disney’s Blu-ray releases, the video presented here is a mixed package. While it starts out with an incredible amount of detail, especially on skin and fabric textures, it slowly loses its crispness over time, instead filling the screen with a slightly glossed over picture, which loses the detail on characters faces and the like over time. I’ve found this to be an issue with films encoded with VC-1; it’s still a great picture, don’t get me wrong, but there’s always some sort of detail loss in some sequences. For the audio portion we get a English 5.1 Uncompressed track (as well as English and French 5.1 tracks) that is an absolute powerhouse. Plenty of thudding and booming from the subwoofer and nice use of surrounds make for a pleasant viewing experience.
Moving onto the extras we first have a commentary with director Martin Scorsese who takes us through the production of the film and includes stories from the set, with bits and pieces of information sprinkled about working with the actors and his desire to get the film made. I actually felt kind of bad that I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I’d hoped after hearing this track, as Scorsese clearly put a ton of sweat and blood into this one.
Moving onto the extras, which, again, have all been ported over from the DVD release, w start with a series of featurettes. First up is “Costume Design” (8:00) and “Set Design” (9:12), which are just as they sound, while “History of the Five Points” (13:33) talks about the historical aspects of the location used in the film. “Exploring the Sets of Gangs of New York” (22:31) is some on-set behind-the-scenes footage of the various elements of the series. “Discovery Channel Special: ‘Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York'” (35:09) is similar in nature to the “History” piece in that it takes on a real-world perspective to the story presented in the film (which can feel a bit incredulous at times, so it’s nice to have some reality to ground it).
“U2 Music Video The Hands that Built America” (4:39), Theatrical Trailer (2:30) and Teaser Trailer (2:31) finish up this Blu-ray release. There isn’t a load of extras to sort through, but what’s here is worth checking, especially if you enjoyed the film. I actually wish I had listened to Scorsese’s track first, as his love for the film certainly perked my interest in it a bit more, but I’d already seen it and been disappointed with the pacing of it, so there was little hope for any kind of renewed interest. If you haven’t seen it yet, this Blu-ray release comes Recommended. It’s not a bad film in the least, it just wasn’t my cup of tea, but there is some really great characterization to witness in this one and that alone is worth at least one viewing.