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A Review of "Gangs of New York"

Updated on February 28, 2015

"Gangs of New York" Movie Poster

This movie is based on the Irish immigrants moving into tenements in Five Points in New York City. They came over from Ireland to pursue a better life for their families. The movie focuses in on the iniquitous ways these people lived their day-to-day lives. It shows them getting harassed and often brutalized as they exited the ships and stepped onto American soil.


I believe that the Scorsese’s point in making the movie is to give people a blunt, realistic idea of what life was like for these people. As I watched Gangs of New York I was absolutely captivated by it. However, being historically accurate and being moving are two very different things. As far as it being realistic to the situations of the time, it really does have some serious short comings. Having said that, there is something it does very well. It gives you a good feel for the mindset of the people and the cultural relativism of the time period.

The movie really was quite dramatic and swayed you into certain ideas that aren’t necessarily quite as profound as the director implies. As you watch the movie you are given the distinct impression that all Irish people are gang members and are on the constant defense from being killed. However, in reality, the gangs really were a minority of the Irish people. Most of the Irish immigrants were living in the tenements trying their best to support their families with an honest, honorable, legal, hard-working mentality. They were simply trying to make the best of a situation that was quite sour. There were certain pieces of the movie that made me feel that the Irish were even provoking others almost, in a way, to worsen their situation.

In reality, New York really wasn’t all that much more dangerous than it is today (when speaking in terms of murders). The brutality depicted in the movie in Five Points was a little bit overboard. There was just as much in the rest of New York. Also there are so many scenes in the movie of these absolutely enormous mob/gang fights where the entire town is positively engulfed by it. That never really happened; of course there were fights and riots but not to this extent.

The gangs that were featured were the Bowery Boys, the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Short Tails, the Slaughter Houses, and the Swamp Angels. The whole basis of the movie was on gangs and that in itself is a bit incorrect. Gangs such as the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits were really more like political clubs. They of course, were violent and manipulated all situations to get their person into office. The movie does home in on this, but it portrayed these “gangs” as being more about malicious murder than politics. In reality, politics was their main objective. As far as my disappointments of the movie go, that really is my biggest one.

He did impress upon his audience a feeling. He produced a film that really does convey pain. The acting, wardrobe, scenery, and timing were all exceptional. He uses your emotions against you to feel your feet in their shoes. When you watch this movie you cannot help but feel a strong sense of despair and unease for these people and their struggle. Perhaps, for what he’s trying to achieve, the fact that the movie is so dramatic and exaggerated isn’t the worst thing. People watching this movie have merely walked in the tracks of these people; they haven’t walked up to the steps of their putrid debasing tenement in Five Points with racial slurs and threats of brutality being thrown at them. All while simply trying to provide for their families. Maybe the closest we will get, is watching something that is dramatized so it captures our attention and makes us feel.

The movie, despite its inaccuracies, really did give you a sense of historical relativism and that of the culture and the mindsets of the people living in it. The movie was made very well and had lots of little details that made the overall tone. From the lighting to the structure of the buildings, even to the colors of the clothes the people were wearing gave a mood of gloom and an ambiance of poverty and despair. It all looked very realistic and didn’t try to sugar coat. The main actor Leonardo DiCaprio, had greasy unevenly cut hair and the lead actress Cameron Diaz wore very little make up and didn’t portray at all the posh sex symbol she usually does.

One of the things I really appreciated about the movie was that as far as I’m educated on the topic, I really felt that the moods and mind-sets of the people were portrayed accurately. The characters in the story were so casual and cache about so many things that today are very frowned upon and often cringed at. The movie was laden with prostitution and was very explicit and open. It was in almost every scene of the movie and was absolutely no big deal to the characters. Also other things that would be considered absolutely morbid and repugnant to modern day American society, such as home-done abortions. The movie really did do a fantastic job of not letting modern day moralities get in the way. That is something I feel that very, very few movies are unable to do.

Futurama's Parody Depiction of Gangs of New York

I believe that Scorsese’s overall goal in making the movie really was to deliver to people a somewhat realistic depiction of what these times in America were like for these new coming, unwanted Irish immigrants. In addition to doing that, I think that he wanted to make a statement and a big boom to people’s emotional senses. While he may not have been as realistic as he intended on being, he really did make an impact on his audience. Certain parts of history that were presented in the movie were quite bloated and disproportionate, but he did achieve his larger goal of getting the attention and emotion from the viewers. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who wants something that feels like a punch in the face and wants to get a dramatic explosion of emotion. As far as entertainment goes, I really did enjoy and appreciate this movie. It was very well done, had a good flow to it, and was very intriguing and captivating. If you are one looking to get a very realistic and historically accurate view of America at this time, you’d be much better off finding a good documentary.

In conclusion, I believe that Scorsese is an excellent director and this movie is great. He did fulfill quite a large portion of what he was shooting for and it’s well worth the time to watch it. Maybe just not before bed.

Fan Art for Gangs of New York

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