Gangs of New York

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Gangs of New York
Gangs of New York Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by Jay Cocks
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Alberto Grimaldi Productions
  • Initial Entertainment Group
Distributed by Miramax
Release date
  • December 20, 2002 (2002-12-20)
Running time
168 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $100 million[2]
Box office $193.8 million[2]

Gangs of New York is a 2002 American epic period drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of New York City. The screenplay is by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. It was inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1927 nonfiction book, The Gangs of New York. It was made in Cinecittà, Rome, distributed by Miramax Films and nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, among nine other Oscar nominations.

The film is set in 1862 and follows gang leader Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in his roles as crime boss and political kingmaker under the helm of "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent). The film culminates in a violent confrontation between Cutting and his mob with the protagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his immigrant allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863. It was released on December 20, 2002 and grossed $193 million worldwide.


In the slum neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan in 1846, a territorial war comes to a head between two gangs: The nativist, Protestant "Natives" led by Bill "the Butcher" Cutting, and the Irish Catholic immigrant "Dead Rabbits" lead by Priest Vallon. The gangs meet for a final, bloody battle in Paradise Square, and Vallon's young son watches as the conflict concludes with his father's death at the Butcher's hand. Bill declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed and orders that Vallon be buried with honor. Vallon's son hides the knife that killed his father, and is taken to an orphanage on Blackwell's Island.

In September 1862, Vallon's son, now calling himself Amsterdam, returns to Five Points seeking revenge. New Irish immigrants are flooding the area in the wake of the Great Famine. With the American Civil War in its second year, many are recruited or conscripted into the Union Army. Amsterdam retrieves the knife from its hiding place and meets an old acquaintance, Johnny Sirocco, who recognizes him as Vallon's son. Johnny familiarizes Amsterdam with Five Points' clans of gangs, pickpockets, and thieves, all of whom pay tribute to Bill the Butcher, who exerts control over the neighborhood. Amsterdam joins Johnny's gang of thieves and is introduced to Bill himself, but keeps his past a secret. He learns that many of his father's former loyalists in the Dead Rabbits are now under Bill's control, including "Happy Jack" Mulraney, who is now a corrupt constable, and McGloin, who is one of Bill's lieutenants. On February 16 of each year Bill celebrates the anniversary of his victory over the Dead Rabbits; Amsterdam plans to make a public spectacle of his revenge by killing Bill during this celebration.

Amsterdam meets pickpocket and grifter Jenny Everdeane, who Johnny is infatuated with. Amsterdam is attracted to her, but his interest is dampened upon learning that she was once Bill's ward and still enjoys his affections. Amsterdam gains Bill's confidence, and Bill becomes his mentor. Through Bill, he becomes involved in the dealings of corrupt politician William M. Tweed who, as boss of Tammany Hall, spreads his influence throughout Lower Manhattan and vies with his opponents for control of New York City. After saving Bill from an assassination attempt, Amsterdam is tormented by the realization that he may have acted out of honest devotion to Bill. Jenny nurses the wounded Bill, and she and Amsterdam have a furious argument which dissolves into passionate lovemaking. Bill speaks to Amsterdam of the downfall of civilization and how he has maintained his power through the spectacle of violence and fear. He says that Priest Vallon was the last worthy enemy he ever fought, and that the Priest once beat him soundly but let him live in shame rather than kill him, an incident that gave him the strength of will and character to return and fight for his own authority.

On the evening of the anniversary, Johnny, in a fit of jealousy over Jenny, reveals Amsterdam's true identity and intentions to Bill. Bill baits Amsterdam with a knife throwing act involving Jenny. As Bill toasts Priest Vallon, Amsterdam throws his knife, but Bill easily deflects it and wounds Amsterdam in the abdomen with a counter throw of his own. Rather than kill Amsterdam, Bill proclaims that he will let him live in shame, and burns his cheek with a hot blade. Going into hiding, Jenny nurses Amsterdam back to health and implores him to escape with her to San Francisco. "Monk" McGinn, a barber who fought for Priest Vallon, gives Amsterdam a straight razor that belonged to Priest Vallon.

Amsterdam announces his return by hanging a dead rabbit in Paradise Square. Bill sends Happy Jack to investigate, but Amsterdam kills him and hangs his body in the square. In retaliation, Bill has Johnny severely beaten and run through with a pike, leaving it to Amsterdam to end his suffering. The racist McGloin attacks Amsterdam's African American friend Jimmy in church, but is beaten by Amsterdam, his gang of friends, and the archbishop. The Natives confront Amsterdam's gang, and Bill promises to return when they are ready to fight. The incident garners newspaper coverage, and Tweed presents Amsterdam with a plan to defeat Bill and his influence, hoping to cash in on the publicity: Tweed will back the candidacy of Monk McGinn for sheriff in exchange for the support of the Irish vote. Bill and Amsterdam each force people to vote on election day, some of them several times, resulting in Monk winning by more votes than there are voters. Bill, humiliated, murders Monk. Amsterdam issues a traditional challenge to Bill and the Natives to fight, which Bill accepts.

In response to the Enrollment Act of 1863, the New York City draft riots break out just as the gangs are preparing to fight. Union Army soldiers are deployed to control the rioters. As the rival gangs meet in Paradise Square, they are interrupted by cannon fire from naval ships in the harbor firing directly into the square. Many are killed by the cannons, and a wave of Union soldiers wipe out many of the gang members including McGloin. Bill and Amsterdam face one another amid a thick cloud of dust and debris, exchanging blows. They are thrown to the ground by another cannon blast, and when the smoke clears Bill finds that he has been mortally wounded by a piece of shrapnel. Declaring "Thank God, I die a true American", he is finally killed by Amsterdam.

Bill is buried on a hilltop cemetery in Brooklyn, adjacent to Priest Vallon, with both graves in view of the Manhattan skyline. Amsterdam buries his father's razor on the Priest's grave and leaves for San Francisco with Jenny, narrating that in time New York would be rebuilt as if "we were never here". The passage of time is depicted rapidly, with modern New York being built up over the next hundred years and the graves of Bill and the Priest becoming overgrown by bushes and weeds.



"The country was up for grabs, and New York was a powder keg. This was the America not the West with its wide open spaces, but of claustrophobia, where everyone was crushed together. On one hand, you had the first great wave of immigration, the Irish, who were Catholic, spoke Gaelic, and owed allegiance to the Vatican. On the other hand, there were the Nativists, who felt that they were the ones who had fought and bled, and died for the nation. They looked at the Irish coming off the boats and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was chaos, tribal chaos. Gradually, there was a street by street, block by block, working out of democracy as people learned somehow to live together. If democracy didn't happen in New York, it wasn't going to happen anywhere."
— Martin Scorsese on how he saw the history of New York City as the battleground of the modern American democracy[3]

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese had grown up in Little Italy in the borough of Manhattan in New York City during the 1950s. At the time, he had noticed there were parts of his neighborhood that were much older than the rest, including tombstones from the 1810s in Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, cobblestone streets and small basements located under more recent large buildings; this sparked Scorsese's curiosity about the history of the area: "I gradually realized that the Italian-Americans weren’t the first ones there, that other people had been there before us. As I began to understand this, it fascinated me. I kept wondering, how did New York look? What were the people like? How did they walk, eat, work, dress?"[3]

In 1970, Scorsese came across Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld (1928) about the city's nineteenth century criminal underworld and found it to be a revelation. In the portraits of the city's criminals, Scorsese saw the potential for an American epic about the battle for the modern American democracy.[3] At the time, Scorsese was a young director without money or clout; by the end of the decade, with the success of crime films such as Mean Streets (1973), about his old neighborhood, and Taxi Driver (1976), he was a rising star. In 1979, he acquired screen rights to Asbury's book; however, it took twenty years to get the production moving forward. Difficulties arose with reproducing the monumental city scape of nineteenth century New York with the style and detail Scorsese wanted; almost nothing in New York City looked as it did in that time, and filming elsewhere was not an option. Eventually, in 1999, Scorsese was able to find a partnership with Harvey Weinstein, noted producer and co-chairman of Miramax Films.[3]

In order to create the sets that Scorsese envisioned, the production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio in Rome, Italy. Production designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of mid-nineteenth century New York buildings, consisting of a five-block area of Lower Manhattan, including the Five Points slum, a section of the East River waterfront including two full-sized sailing ships, a thirty-building stretch of lower Broadway, a patrician mansion, and replicas of Tammany Hall, a church, a saloon, a Chinese theater, and a gambling casino.[3] For the Five Points, Ferretti recreated George Catlin's painting of the area.[3]

Particular attention was also paid to the speech of characters, as loyalties were often revealed by their accents. The film's voice coach, Tim Monich, resisted using a generic Irish brogue and instead focused on distinctive dialects of Ireland and Great Britain. As DiCaprio's character was born in Ireland but raised in the United States, his accent was designed to be a blend of accents typical of the half-Americanized. To develop the unique, lost accents of the Yankee "Nativists" such as Daniel Day-Lewis's character, Monich studied old poems, ballads, newspaper articles (which sometimes imitated spoken dialect as a form of humor) and the Rogue's Lexicon, a book of underworld idioms compiled by New York’s police commissioner, so that his men would be able to tell what criminals were talking about. An important piece was an 1892 wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reciting four lines of a poem in which he pronounced the word "world" as "woild", and the "a" of "an" nasal and flat, like "ayan". Monich concluded that native nineteenth century New Yorkers probably sounded something like the proverbial Brooklyn cabbie of the mid-twentieth.[3]

Due to the strong personalities and clashing visions of director and producer,[clarification needed] the three year production became a story in and of itself.[3][4][5][6] Scorsese strongly defended his artistic vision on issues of taste and length while Weinstein fought for a streamlined, more commercial version. During the delays, noted actors such as Robert De Niro and Willem Dafoe had to leave the production due to conflicts with their other productions. Costs overshot the original budget by 25 percent, bringing the total cost over $100 million.[4] The increased budget made the film vital to Miramax Films' short term success.[5][7]

After post-production was nearly completed in 2001, the film was delayed for over a year. The official justification was, after the September 11, 2001 attacks certain elements of the picture may have made audiences uncomfortable; the film's closing shot is a view of modern-day New York City, complete with the World Trade Center's towers, despite their having been leveled by the attacks over a year before the film's release.[8] However this explanation was refuted in Scorsese's own contemporary statements, where he noted that the production was still filming pick-ups even into October 2002.[5][9]

Weinstein kept demanding cuts to the film's length, and some of those cuts were eventually made. In December 2001, Jeffrey Wells[who?] reviewed a purported workprint of the film as it existed in the fall of 2001. Wells reported the work print lacked narration, was about 20 minutes longer, and although it was "different than the [theatrical] version ... scene after scene after scene play[s] exactly the same in both." Despite the similarities, Wells found the work print to be richer and more satisfying than the theatrical version. While Scorsese has stated the theatrical version is his final cut, he reportedly "passed along [the] three-hour-plus [work print] version of Gangs on tape [to friends] and confided, 'Putting aside my contractual obligation to deliver a shorter, two-hour-and-forty-minute version to Miramax, this is the version I'm happiest with,' or words to that effect."[8]

Set of Gangs of New York in Cinecittà Studios, Rome

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Scorsese clarified the real issues in the cutting of the film. Ebert notes,

"His discussions with Weinstein, he said, were always about finding the length where the picture worked. When that got to the press, it was translated into fights. The movie is currently 168 minutes long, he said, and that is the right length, and that's why there won't be any director's cut — because this is the director's cut."[10]


Robbie Robertson supervised the soundtrack's collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks.

Historical accuracy[edit]

Scorsese received both praise and criticism for historical depictions in the film. In a PBS interview for the History News Network, George Washington University professor Tyler Anbinder discussed the historical aspects of the film.[11] See also Vincent DiGirolamo's "Such, Such Were the B'hoys," Radical History Review Vol. 90 (Fall 2004), pp. 123–41.

Asbury's book described the Bowery Boys, Plug Uglies, True Blue Americans, Shirt Tails, and Dead Rabbits, who were named after their battle standard, a dead rabbit on a pike.[3] The book also described William Poole, the inspiration for William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, a member of the Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement. Poole did not come from the Five Points and was assassinated nearly a decade before the Draft Riots. Both the fictional Bill and the real one had butcher shops, but Poole is not known to have killed anyone.[12][13] The book also described other famous gangsters from the era such as Red Rocks Farrell, Slobbery Jim and Hell-Cat Maggie, who filed her front teeth to points and wore artificial brass fingernails.[3]

Anbinder said that Scorsese's recreation of the visual environment of mid-19th century New York City and the Five Points "couldn't have been much better".[11] All sets were built completely on the exterior stages of Cinecittà Studios in Rome.[14] By 1860, New York City had 200,000 Irish,[15] in a population of 800,000.[16] The riot which opens the film, though fictional, was "reasonably true to history" for fights of this type, except for the amount of carnage depicted in the gang fights and city riots.[11]

According to Paul S. Boyer, "The period from the 1830s to the 1850s was a time of almost continuous disorder and turbulence among the urban poor. The decade from 1834–1844 saw more than 200 major gang wars in New York City alone, and in other cities the pattern was similar."[17] As early as 1839, Mayor Philip Hone said: "This city is infested by gangs of hardened wretches" who "patrol the streets making night hideous and insulting all who are not strong enough to defend themselves."[18] The large gang fight depicted in the film as occurring in 1846 is fictional, though there was one between the Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits in the Five Points on July 4, 1857, which is not mentioned in the film.[19] DiGirolamo concludes that "'Gangs of New York' becomes a historical epic with no change over time. The effect is to freeze ethno-cultural rivalries over the course of three decades and portray them as irrational ancestral hatreds unaltered by demographic shifts, economic cycles and political realignments."[citation needed]

In the film, the Draft Riots are depicted mostly as acts of destruction but there was a lot of violence that took place during that week of July 1863. The violence resulted in more than one hundred deaths, most of which were African Americans. They were especially targeted by the Irish gangs, in part because they were afraid of the job competition that more freed slaves would cause in the city.[20]

The film references the infamous Tweed Courthouse, as "Boss" Tweed refers to plans for the structure as being "modest" and "economical".[citation needed]

In the film, Chinese Americans were common enough in the city to have their own community and public venues. Significant Chinese migration to New York City did not begin until 1869 (although Chinese people migrated to America as early as the 1840s), the time when the transcontinental railroad was completed. The Chinese theater on Pell St. was not finished until the 1890s.[21] The Old Brewery, the overcrowded tenement shown in the movie in both 1846 and 1862–63, was actually demolished in 1852.[22]


The original target release date was December 21, 2001, in time for the 2001 Academy Awards but the production overshot that goal as Scorsese was still filming.[5][9] A twenty-minute clip, billed as an "extended preview", debuted at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was shown at a star-studded event at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès with Scorsese, DiCaprio, Diaz and Weinstein in attendance.[9]

Harvey Weinstein then wanted the film to open on December 25, 2002, but a potential conflict with another film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can produced by DreamWorks, caused him to move the opening day to an earlier position. After negotiations between several parties, including the interests of DiCaprio, Weinstein and DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, the decision was made on economic grounds: DiCaprio did not want to face a conflict of promoting two movies opening against each other; Katzenberg was able to convince Weinstein that the violence and adult material in Gangs of New York would not necessarily attract families on Christmas Day. Of main concern to all involved was attempting to maximize the film's opening day, an important part of film industry economics.[5]

After three years in production, the film was released on December 20, 2002; a year after its original planned release date.[9] Gangs of New York is notable in that in remains the only film released since 1986 not to award Daniel Day-Lewis top billing.

While the film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, there are no plans to revisit the theatrical cut or prepare a "director's cut" for home video release. "Marty doesn't believe in that," editor Thelma Schoonmaker stated. "He believes in showing only the finished film."[8]


Box office[edit]

The film made $77,812,000 in Canada and the United States. It also took $23,763,699 in Japan and $16,358,580 in the United Kingdom. Worldwide the film grossed a total of $193,772,504.[23]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 75% based 202 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10.The site's critical consensus reads, "Though flawed, the sprawling, messy Gangs of New York is redeemed by impressive production design and Day-Lewis's electrifying performance."[24] The review aggregate website Metacritic gave the film a score of 72 out of 100. based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[25]

Roger Ebert praised the film but believed it fell short of Scorsese's best work, while his At the Movies co-star Richard Roeper called it a "masterpiece" and declared it a leading contender for Best Picture.[26] Paul Clinton of CNN called the film "a grand American epic".[27] In Variety, Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "falls somewhat short of great film status, but is still a richly impressive and densely realized work that bracingly opens the eye and mind to untaught aspects of American history." McCarthy singled out the meticulous attention to historical detail and production design for particular praise.[28]

Some critics, however, were disappointed with the film, complaining that it fell well short of the hype surrounding it, that it tried to tackle too many themes without saying anything unique about them, and that the overall story was weak.[29]




The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gangs of New York (18)". British Board of Film Classification. December 10, 2002. Retrieved October 5, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Gangs of New York (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 27, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Fergus M. Bordewich (December 2002). "Manhattan Mayhem". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Laura M. Holson (April 7, 2002). "2 Hollywood Titans Brawl Over a Gang Epic". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Laura M. Holson, Miramax Blinks, and a Double DiCaprio Vanishes, The New York Times, October 11, 2002; accessed July 15, 2010.
  6. ^ Rick Lyman (February 12, 2003). "It's Harvey Weinstein's Turn to Gloat". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  7. ^ Dana Harris, Cathy Dunkley (May 15, 2001). "Miramax, Scorsese gang up". Variety. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c Jeffrey Wells. "Hollywood Elsewhere: Gangs vs. Gangs". Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  9. ^ a b c d Cathy Dunkley (May 20, 2002). "Gangs of the Palais". Variety. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Gangs all here for Scorsese". Chicago Sun-Times. December 15, 2002. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c History News Network Archived December 9, 2003, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Gangs of New York",; accessed October 5, 2016.
  13. ^ "Bill the Butcher",; accessed October 5, 2016.
  14. ^ Mixing Art and a Brutal History Archived August 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ The New York Irish, Ronald H. Bayor and Timothy Meagher, eds. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)
  16. ^ "19th century AD." Adolescence, Summer, 1995 by Ruskin Teeter.
  17. ^ Paul S. Boyer (1992). "Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920". Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674931106
  18. ^ Gangs, Crime, Smut, Violence. The New York Times. September 20, 1990.
  19. ^ Riots,; accessed October 5, 2016.
  20. ^ Johnson, Michael."The New York Draft Riots". Reading the American Past, 2009 p. 295.
  21. ^ Hamill, Pete. "Trampling city's history." New York Daily News; retrieved October 4, 2009.
  22. ^ R. K. Chin, "A Journey Through Chinatown."
  23. ^ "Gangs of New York". Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  24. ^ Gangs of New York Movie Reviews, Pictures – Rotten Tomatoes
  25. ^ "Gangs of New York". February 7, 2003. Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  26. ^ Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. "At the Movies: Gangs of New York". Retrieved 2002-12-20. [dead link]
  27. ^ Paul Clinton (December 19, 2002). "Review: Epic 'Gangs' Oscar-worthy effort". CNN. Retrieved 2002-12-19. 
  28. ^ Todd McCarthy (December 5, 2002). "Review: Gangs of New York Review". Variety. Retrieved 2002-12-05. 
  29. ^ "Gangs of New York negative reviews". 
  30. ^ a b
  31. ^
  32. ^ Archived February 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ Archived December 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^
  35. ^ Archived December 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ Archived February 6, 2003, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ Archived January 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  38. ^
  39. ^ Archived January 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  40. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30. 

External links[edit]