Gangs of New York | Chicago Reader

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Martin Scorsese's epic about gang wars in mid-19th-century lower Manhattan starts off with a lot of promise and excitement but winds up 165 minutes later feeling empty and affectless. Critics and the public alike have discouraged Scorsese from growing up—applauding relatively adolescent slugfests like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and GoodFellas while showing less enthusiasm for his more adult fare. Much of the problem here is that this film shines only when it stays on the level of a boys' adventure, part pirate movie and part 19th-century revenge tale; it falters when it and its characters try to become something more. As often happens in large-scale celebrations of bloodshed, the creators' ironic ruminations on the meaning of it all get swamped by the storytelling, and by the time the movie arrives at the 1863 Civil War draft riots, the parallels with The Birth of a Nation are far from encouraging. The script by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan is especially weak when it comes to handling the heroine (Cameron Diaz), but Daniel Day-Lewis is very impressive in a charismatic post-Brando performance as the villain and ambivalent father figure to Leonardo DiCaprio's hero. With Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, and Brendan Gleeson. R.

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