Gangs Of New York

Gangs Of New York (2003)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurettes, Music Video, Trailers and more

"Gangs Of New York" is a surprising movie in many ways. While Martin Scorcese has shown us syncopated violent moments in his movies before, none of them was so constantly brutal and vicious throughout – almost like a tapestry of violence. Also, the story of the gangs of New York is very surprising as I have to admit it is a part of history that I was not familiar with and that I was surprised to learn about in this fashion. These gangs were an integral part in the Big Apple’s infancy and have most definitely shaped the city and its inhabitants as a whole.

In the mid-1800s New York was a giant melting pot. People from all over the world were still pouring into the country and their first destination was, inevitably, New York. Here however, the cultural mix created a variety of social tensions and problems, which often resulted in open violence. Gangs were formed by the people in order to survive the harshness and cruelties of living in New York. Of course, given the different ethnic backgrounds, these gangs had different ideals and values, and the result were feuds between many of these gangs. Feuds that were reminiscent of bloody battles, actually.

The movie focuses on two such gangs, the "Natives," who consisted of US-born citizens who felt threatened by the onpour of immigrants from all over the world, and the "Dead Rabbits," a gang of Irishmen, who ranked on the lowest rung of the social ladder during the time – lower even than the black population. Lead by Bill "The Butcher" Cutter (Daniel Day-Lewis) the Natives rule the streets of New York’s largest ghetto – lower Manhattan, or the Five Points, as it was known back then. Like a dictator, Cutter lawlessly rules the streets with an iron fist, butchering everyone in his way, friend, foe, politician… anyone. One day in a clash of the gangs, Cutter kills "The Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of the Dead Rabbits and thus once again confirms his status in the Five Points. Vallon’s son watches the incident and is dead-set on revenge. After 16 years he (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the Five Points in hopes to destroy the Butcher, but the closer he gets to him, the more he is also attracted by his power, and the benefits he reaps being the Butcher’s right-hand man.

"Gangs Of New York" is a truly amazing movie. It is exhilarating and suspenseful, yet atmospheric and sobering. Martin Scorcese once again plays all his cards right, creating a world that is too real to be fantastical in a sense, yet too unreal to be real at times. With the breath-taking production design and his wonderful cast, he literally hypnotizes the viewer and sucks the viewer into his canvas. Running an ample 167 minutes, the film takes its time, setting up the premise, establishing characters, building the story and the culminating an a climax that leaves the viewer speechless in its sheer scope and its catastrophic details. Ultimately, I think, it is impossible, not to be impressed by this film.
It would be wrong however to forget to say at least a word about the cast. Daniel Day-Lewis is putting in what may be the best performance in his life. He is frighteningly maniacal and diabolical, turning into a completely unpredictable… animal. And if you thought, Leonardo DiCaprio will just surf the "Titanic"-beauty wave, you better think again. He’s putting in a gritty performance that is fully convincing and rich in emotions.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment is presenting "Gangs Of New York" as a 2-disc release to make sure the materials has plenty of breathing room to also accommodate a <$DTS,DTS> audio track. The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The presentation is simply marvelous. No speck, no blemish is evident in the print and the picture revels in details and definition. Colors are superbly rendered, reproducing every little nuance the filmmakers have put in place. Michael Ballhaus’ camera work is once again a highlight of the move as he frames the image with wonderful details. Angles and movement of the camera are always designed for maximum impact, helping to turn "Gangs Of New York" into a feast for the senses. Black levels are absolutely solid on this release, rendering an image with deep, solid shadows that never break up. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression has also been handled perfectly, without introducing distracting artifacts.

On the audio side, things are just as impressive. Featuring a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track alongside a DTS track, the audio is very dynamic and makes aggressive use of the surround channels. The frequency response is wide with a bass extension well below 25Hz, making sure to work that subwoofer. High ends are also reproduced without problems, creating a presentation that is balanced and free of distortion at any time. The dynamic range is also impressive, leaving the most subtle ambient effects fully intact while also allowing for thunderous moments. Especially the DTS track on the disc is reproducing the subtle nuances of the track a tad better than the Dolby Digital track. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable without being drowned out.

The DVD also contains a number of supplements, such as a running length <$commentary,commentary track> by Martin Scorcese. This commentary is simply required listening. You cannot afford to miss all the things Scorcese has to say about his movie, about the people he worked with, and the historic background the film is based on. Full of valuable insight, information and technical tidbits as well, the track is a treasure trove for every film fan, just as you would expect from an accomplished and outspoken filmmaker as Scorcese.

The disc also comes with a full Discovery Channel documentary on the subject of the "Gangs Of New York," covering many of the historic aspects for the film and the events, even showcasing images of the real people we meet in the film.

Behind-the-scenes featurettes on the costumes, the set design and many other aspects are also part of the release, as well as an exploration of the Five Points sets used for the film, complete with multi-angle viewing option.

The release is rounded out by the U2 music video "The Hands That Built America", a Five Points Study Guide and a number of teasers and trailers for the film.

"Gangs Of New York" is one of the best films to come my way in recent times, and another nod to the city by Scorcese. It does not intent to be a history lesson really, and as such took some liberties with the real events that inspired the story. Nonetheless, the movie feels authentic and excels in any aspect imaginable. It has received a glorious treatment on this DVD and is a must-see for any film fan.