The Wolf of Wall Street marks the fifth collaborative effort between director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The duo will only need to make another three films together in order to equal the number of ‘Bobby and Marty’ joint efforts. Their first cinematic collaboration was the gruesome and relentless Gangs of New York. Scorsese is known for his characters that find themselves rooted in violence and murder but Gangs of New York takes this thirst for blood to a more barbaric level. DiCaprio and Scorsese proved in this, their first collaboration, just what a powerful unit they could be. Although De Niro has been missed from Scorsese’s work for almost two decades now it is a comfort to know that the gap has been somewhat filled by an actor as dedicated and versatile as DiCaprio. Gangs of New York opens in the year 1846 as we witness a brutal battle that takes place in the infamous Five Points, in Lower Manhattan, between New York’s two rival gangs – The Dead Rabbits and The Natives. Sixteen years later, Amsterdam (DiCaprio) returns to avenge his father, the leader of The Dead Rabbits, who was killed in the bloody battle by the racist and the rival gang leader Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis) who is portrayed as more of a monster than a man; a bloodhound on the trail for fresh blood and murder. As we watch Amsterdam befriend Bill and surround himself with a highly dangerous criminal world, what unfolds before us is an operatic tale filled with blood, greed and vengeance.
The set is exquisite. Crafted and constructed in the studios, Scorsese’s New York remains organic and rich in quality, benefiting from the absence of green screen. The set forms a strong aesthetic backdrop upon which this unique story can be told. Scorsese has succeeded here in making this film in the most authentic way possible. Gangs of New York is not one of Scorsese’s great masterpieces but it comes pretty close. If it wasn’t for the existence of Taxi Driver and Goodfellas it would be a more prominently discussed film within his rich portfolio. Scorsese’s usual conviction is visible throughout and he demonstrates, as he did in The Age of Innocence, that he is comfortable working in any time setting, outside of his familiar mobster dens and dingy bars. In fact, characters such as Sam Rothstein and Travis Bickle aren’t made of the same twisted malice that we find in Bill the Butcher. Gangs of New York is ultimately Daniel Day-Lewis’ film. His character is one of contemporary American cinema’s fiercest creations. His unpredictability and lust for bloodshed makes him a completely unstable individual. DiCaprio is limited, with a more rounded character who seems to remain on one level. This is not necessarily a bad thing as he provides a stability and familiarity for the audience to relate to. Above all else, Gangs of New York reminds us that Scorsese is first and foremost a man from Little Italy whose passion for his city expands through this historical tale. The film closes with a shot of a modern day New York City skyline in which Scorsese chose to include The World Trade Centre, a year after they were destroyed. His reason for doing so wholeheartedly summarises the pride and passion that drives Gangs of New York. The Twin Towers remained included to remember those who built New York and not those that tried to destroy it.
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