The Set of 400: #167 – My Favorite Glass Eye

Today! Because the appearance of law must be upheld, especially while it’s being broken –

Gangs of New York (2002)

Directed by Martin Scorsese (x3)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (x2), Leonardo DiCaprio (x3), Cameron Diaz (x3), Brendan Gleeson, John C. Reilly (x6), Jim Broadbent (x2), Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson (x2), Eddie Marsan (x3), Stephen Graham, Gary Lewis, Lawrence Gillard Jr., Cara Seymour (x2), Tim Pigott-Smith (x2)

This movie was so close to being an unmitigated masterpiece that we as a people can only lament the missteps made in dragging it to completion. You have a terrific cast, a marvelous adaptation of a book without a real narrative, and Scorsese hell bent on winning an Oscar, in a year that wasn’t super competitive. Daniel Day-Lewis, not one to slum it, gives 110% percent and dominates the film as Bill the Butcher – a film, again, loaded with talent. He’s a colossus, an unholy terror, and while the film purports to be about the Vallons – father Priest and son Amsterdam – it ends up totally the story of the vicious Five Points ganglord.

So what went wrong? Well, for all the success they’d have later, Scorsese and DiCaprio should not have teamed up quite yet by 2002. Leo is woefully, horribly miscast as Amsterdam – not only is the character tricky given all the deceit and subterfuge involved, but after a point the majority of his scenes are with Bill, who obliterates his co-stars. Off hand, I don’t know who would’ve been up to the challenge this role presents, but it certainly wasn’t ’02 DiCaprio. And Cameron Diaz doesn’t fare much better. I can’t think of another movie I like pretty much at all in which the lead character is so infuriating in its execution. Part of the fault could go to the manner the script is structured, okay – maybe anyone cast would’ve run into the same basic issue – How do you make Amsterdam compelling opposite the Butcher? – and maybe Marty deserves some of the blame for boxing himself in and having no effective course of action out. But at the time, this was just more proof for DiCaprio haters that he was the most overrated actor on the planet – something I never bought into, and time has proven the haters wrong, come on.

I would again like to point to exhibit #388, his amazing work in The Wolf of Wall Street

But the glorious near-miss that is Gangs of New York is still a wildly entertaining movie. The rest of the cast is tremendous – from John C. Reilly’s corrupt cop Happy Jack to Brendan Gleeson’s brawling civic leader Monk to Jim Broadbent’s wonderful turn as Boss Tweed to Liam Neeson, kicking the whole affair off with the turf war for the ages. It’s the rare Civil War era film set exclusively in New York City – an interesting angle in which to view the melee in the south – and incorporates a number of historical facts and events, most notably the largely forgotten draft riots that broke out in 1863. Sure, the whole thing is probably a little long, but it rips right through, buoyed by a great design scheme and terrific attention to detail. It’s just too bad they were doomed before they even started. What could have been!

Scorsese’s films have been nominated (to date) for 81 Academy Awards in total, and fully 12% of those came for Gangs of New York – shut out in its 10 categories, which included Best Picture, Director, Actor (Day-Lewis, obviously), Screenplay, Cinematography, and Film Editing. This was the first Scorsese picture to reach double digits in nominations, only topped later by The Aviator and Hugo, both reaching 11. I think most people would recognize Scorsese’s real great period as a director as 1973 to 1990, give or take – figure Mean Streets to Goodfellas. So isn’t it surprising that 55 of those 81 nominations have come since ’90? Maybe I give way more credit to the Oscars than I should! Or maybe we’re still squarely inside Scorsese’s great period! Maybe it never stopped!

This is Marty’s third film on the list – following #388 The Wolf of Wall Street and #360 Cape Fear, making him the 11th Three-Timer in the directing wing. Plenty of new Twos and advancing Threes on the acting side, too, but it’s John C. Reilly becoming the sixth Six-Timer who nabs the old spotlight! #372 Walk Hard, #290 Cedar Rapids, #368 Anger Management, #191 Wreck-It Ralph, #217 Magnolia, and Gangs of New York!

Did Reilly win an Oscar for Stan and Ollie?? Did he get nominated at least? As of this writing – no idea!

Coming tomorrow! That is why I have always failed where others have succeeded –

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