Deserving of most of the Oscars it was nominated for, Gangs of New York is an all encompassing look at a turbulent time in America’s history many were unaware of prior to the film’s release. Martin Scorsese may focus the story on two men, but the time period and attention to detail draw the viewer into more than the core revenge tale. Outstanding performances are another aspect of the film that make is such remarkable piece to view.
Incredible sets dominate the screen, setting the tone. The grim, dirty slums are almost colorless at times, adding to the bleak dire circumstances of the thousands of immigrants living in these quarters. Leonardo DiCaprio stars alongside Daniel Day-Lewis, both offering some of their best work to date. Cameron Diaz undoubtedly offers her highest level performance, a far cry from some of the lesser light hearted comedies she’s usually placed in. Here she’s allowed to show range and emotion, and pulls it off.
Gangs of New York is hardly unwilling to show off brutality. Fight sequences are loaded with gushing wounds, amputations, gallons of blood, and otherwise graphic death. It’s not used to shock, but increase the intensity and the emotional impact so important to the film.
Coming in at close to three hours, Gangs could easily lose 20 minutes without affecting the story. Some dialogue feels redundant, and certain shots sit on screen longer than they need to. Also, some oddly placed humor (the elephant escape before the finale) takes away from certain moments, and some darker humor feels out of place too. These are some great laughs, though miscued.
Gangs will come off as boring to some as the limited action hardly constitutes gang warfare. However, the build up makes the explosive (literally) finish that much more intense and exciting. The performances keep the film alive to the end, and impossible to turn away from.
Embarrassing is the only way to describe this Blu-ray edition of the film. This is an ugly, nearly grotesque transfer that’s hardly worthy of being on the format. Edge enhancement is appalling, possibly the worst you’ll find on the format. Whites are bleached to the point where no detail shows through. Flesh tones are completely off and rarely correct. Colors bleed into each other. Extreme close ups are the only times you’ll find evidence of detail, and then the DNR becomes increasingly noticeable. Disney should be ashamed of themselves for releasing a disc no better than its DVD counterpart.
At the very least, the audio is a step up. This PCM effort is stunning in the way it captures movement. As the camera pans, conversations and music moves with it. Action scenes capture every scream and bullet fired through the sound field. Dialogue driven scenes are usually lively with ambient work. Explosions offer some excellent bass effects, and there’s a noticeable increase in clarity over the DVD’s audio track.
History of Five Points offers a look at the characters in the film from the actors and crew perspectives. Set Design and Costume Design are separate featurettes that are self explanatory, running about 18 minutes in total. Exploring the Sets is a wonderful walk through of the buildings and how close the recreation for the film was based on photographs.
The Discovery Channel documentary Uncovering the Gangs of New York is the most detailed look at the real events, and runs for over a half hour. You can get the bullet points from the short history that starts the extra features, or a fuller explanation here. A commentary has Scoresese going solo, and a music video from U2 finishes the extras.