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"Gangs of New York"

IT IS finally here — the much awaited and anticipated film! After all, Martin Scorsese is perhaps one of the few who can envision films of epic nature with all its brooding tones and sombre demeanour.

The Alberto Grimaldi Production/Martin Scorsese Film, presented in India by Innovision Communication Pvt. Ltd., "Gangs Of New York" is visually very arresting, providing a visceral experience which is unapologetic about its pervasive violence.

But when it comes to the narration, complemented by a decidedly weak voice-over that fills in the details about notorious Drafts Riots in the 1860s about the time America was a fledgling country, and New York a savage, lawless city, it moves rather slowly and jaggedly.

In its sweep and vividness, the film reminds you of Scorsese's many ventures, notably "The Last Temptation Of Christ", "Kundan", "The Colour Of Money" and Coppola's "The Godfather", which has criminal ethnic culture in New York as its central theme. But it is not nearly as effective.

The film starts most disconcertingly. Men wearing animal skins, carrying religious symbols and sporting drums marching along — gathering others, crude weapons and knives — into a street that is pristine in the winter. There is white snow and a heavy silence. Till themen start to gather in groups. Then with war cries, a blood bath ensues transforming the white of the landscape to pink — and the battle is gruesome.

The dark, ugly side of human beings is unleashed and coldly visible on the screen. The American values at that time were dominated by ignorance, xenophobia, greed, corruption and disregard for life — and yes racism! Between the natives (Americans of European ancestry) and the Irish and other immigrants. Afraid that the masses would take away their jobs and increase crime, the native gangs kept them at bay with violence. And at the city's centre, Five Points, the leader is Butcher Bill (Daniel Day-Lewis), a fearsome thug with a glass eye and a terrific skill with knives.

Opposing him is `Priest' Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of the Irishmen, who wants to prove his dominance in the area. Then in one awful battle Vallon is killed, watched by his little boy, who swears revenge.

Sixteen years later and after serving term in a reform school, Amsterdam (Leonardo Di Caprio) is now a young man in a world where drafting is imminent. The immigrants are taken away to the army and the remaining ones survive by indulging in petty crimes. A percentage of their earnings must be given to Bill, who maintains supremacy through a network. . Amsterdam catches Bill's eye and he is introduced to a world where politicking and crime are paramount. The paradox is that despite his ruthlessness, Bill has a soft heart andeven begins to consider Amsterdam his surrogate son. Till of course the catalyst, in the form of Jenny (Cameron Diaz) a smooth pickpocket who is also connected to Bill arrives.

The film has many stars, from actors to technicians, but the real one is Scorsese himself — his sweeping vision shows how a story (Jay Cocks) should play out on the screen, especially in the way the action has been orchestrated. It is very evident in the climax, where he alternates between the mad mobs that plunder and loot the richer homes and the final confrontation between Amsterdam and Bill.

The chaos is choreographed deliberately and swift camerawork (Michael Ballhaus) carries the bloody scene to dizzying heights.

The best part of the film perhaps is the mammoth sets (Dante Ferretti) recreating the lawless, dirty city of the Victorian era. And the cinematographer uses his camera to span the cavernous area of the city juxtaposed with smoky Chinese pagodas and upper class opulence.

The obsession for pageantry shows in the costumes and hairdos.If there is anyone who brings to his role much life, it is Daniel Day-Lewis. Flamboyant and showy, he displays a villainy that is not often seen.

CHITRA MAHESH

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