THE CATCHLINE of the trailer says it all: “America was born in the streets.”

In the film Gangs of New York, director Martin Scorsese chronicles the beginning of America by presenting a different picture of New York—one which focuses on the squalid areas of lower Manhattan during the 1860’s known as the Five Points.

The film opens with a bloody showdown between the warring American natives and the Irish Dead Rabbits. The result of this battle sets the plot in motion as the young Irish boy, Amsterdam (Cian McCormack), witnesses his father’s (Liam Neeson) death in the hands of the natives’ leader, William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).

After spending 16 years in an orphanage, the adult Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the Five Points to seek revenge. He ingratiates himself into the Butcher’s inner circle and oddly develops a father-and-son-like relationship with him. The appearance of Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) as his love interest further complicates things when her close ties with the butcher are revealed.

When Amsterdam’s real identity is discovered, he rallies the Irish immigrants to stand up to the Butcher and the rivalry of the two gangs is rekindled. The story reaches its climax when their rivalry eventually leads to a showdown. The breaking of the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863 overcasts the final battle scene.

Scorsese assembles an able cast to portray the characters. DiCaprio does well as the brooding, vengeful Amsterdam while Diaz is effective as the impish pickpocket Jenny. But their performance pales compared to the enigmatic Butcher of Day-Lewis.

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With a natural New York accent, Day-Lewis plays the Butcher’s role through a combination of wicked charm and violent rage. His eyes in particular demonstrate the complex emotions of his character. He could be incredibly bloodthirsty one moment, and honorable the next.

The production is another laudable aspect of the film. It manages to realistically re-create the corrupt and hellish conditions of New York more than a century ago. This, coupled with the casting of hundreds of actors instead of using computer imaging, lends the film a very meaty and tangible quality.

Gangs of New York has a predictable plot, but overall, it’s an outstanding film which deserves its Oscar best picture nomination.

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