I caught part of the Martin Scorsese opus Gangs of New York the other night. I may be committing heresy by saying this, but, I don't think it is the great movie that some people say it is.
Don't get me wrong. I admire the historic sweep of the film. The times of the Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies, and Shirt Tails of the Five Points area of Manhattan are an interesting story to tell. Likewise, the cultural sweep of Tammany Hall and the draft riots of the American Civil war also present the opportunities for telling many tales of social conflict in 19th century America.
What I think I don't get is the casting of the film. The movie is supposed to be, in part, about the struggle of the famine Irish for acceptance in the urban United States. Yet, there are are a scarce few Irish, British, or Irish American actors in the cast.
Let us review the principal dramatis personnae. First, there is the strapping Liam Neeson, a native born Irishman... but he gets killed in the first 15 minutes. There is also Daniel Day Lewis, a Brit who rose to fame playing Irishmen in My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father... but he's cast as the fanatically anti-Irish "Bill The Butcher". That's pretty much it for actors from "across the pond".
The rest of the leads are populated by Southern Californians. The Irish American hero of the film is played by Leonardo DiCaprio... who seems to spend the bulk of the film glowering behind a cheesy little goatee of the sort that supposedly disappeared with the grunge movement in the early 90's. Despite supposedly being a tough among toughs, Leonardo never seems to capture any real feral intensity for me... put him in the movie Fight Club and Tyler Derden would own his little behind from the get-go. To me, he just looks more like he sulking most of the film -- like Kato Kaelin picked up a woman he was eyeing all night at a bar in Hollywood. There is also Cameron Diaz -- pretty much adrift in this testosterone soaked epic -- as a not-horribly-glamorous redhead.
Still I suppose we can be thankful for one thing. This is not Bernardo Bertolluci's Little Buddha with Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha -- who despite his best efforts still makes me think the Buddha is going to say the word "dude" before the film is over. No, Gangs of New York is much better than that.
I think I'll have to cleanse myself by watching Once Upon A Time In America. True, Robert DeNiro and James Woods aren't exactly Jewish New Yorkers either... but they chew up so much scenery that nobody really cares. If only the Scorsese movie had more of that intensity.
on 2004-11-22 at 5:35 p.m.
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