Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York Information

Gangs of New York is a 2002 American fictional historical drama set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of Lower Manhattan. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan, inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1928 non-fiction book, The Gangs of New York. It was filmed in Cinecittà, Rome, distributed by Miramax Films and nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The film begins in 1846 but quickly jumps to 1862. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and the Federal government's execution of the ongoing Civil War. The story follows 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 allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863.


In 1846, in Lower Manhattan's Five Points, a territorial war between the "Natives" (those born in the United States) and recently arrived Irish Catholic immigrants, is coming to a head in Paradise Square. The Natives are led by Bill "the Butcher" Cutting (Day-Lewis), a Protestant nativist. The leader of the Irish gang, the Dead Rabbits, is known as "Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson). The gangs meet in a bloody battle, concluding when Cutting kills Vallon, witnessed by Vallon's young son, Amsterdam (Cian McCormack). Cutting declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed but orders Vallon's body be buried with honor. Amsterdam seizes the knife used to kill his father, races off, and buries it along with a medal his father gave him depicting St. Michael the Archangel. He is found and taken to the Hellgate orphanage.

In September 1862, Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) returns to New York. Arriving in Five Points, he reunites with an old friend, Johnny Sirocco (Thomas), who introduces Amsterdam to Cutting. Amsterdam finds many of his father's old loyalists are now under Cutting's control: Happy Jack Mulraney (Reilly) is a corrupt city constable in Cutting's pocket, and the racist McGloin (Lewis) is one of Cutting's lieutenants. Amsterdam works his way into Cutting's inner circle, and learns that each year, on the anniversary of the Five Points battle (February 16), Cutting leads the city in saluting the victory over the Dead Rabbits. Amsterdam makes plans to kill Cutting during this ceremony, in order to exact public revenge, later meeting Jenny Everdeane (Diaz), a successful and discreet pickpocket and grifter. His interest in her is dampened, however, once he learns she was Cutting's ward and still enjoys Cutting's affections. Amsterdam becomes a part of Boss Tweed's empire.

During a performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Amsterdam thwarts an assassination attempt that leaves Cutting wounded. Both retire to a brothel, where Jenny nurses Cutting. Amsterdam confronts Jenny, and they have an argument that dissolves into lovemaking. Later that night, Amsterdam wakes to find Cutting sitting by his bed in a rocking chair, draped in a tattered American flag. Cutting says "Priest" Vallon was the last enemy he ever fought who was worthy of real respect, having once beaten Cutting soundly, letting him live in shame rather than kill him. Cutting credits the incident with giving him the strength of will and character to return and fight for his own authority, and admits he has come to look upon Amsterdam as the son he never had. The evening of the ceremony arrives. Johnny, out of jealousy that Jenny prefers Amsterdam to him, reveals Amsterdam's identity and his plot to kill Cutting. During a knife-throwing act involving Jenny, Cutting baits Amsterdam when he throws the knife to leave a superficial cut on her throat. Amsterdam throws a knife at Cutting, which the latter deflects, and counters with a knife throw of his own, hitting Amsterdam in the abdomen. Cutting repeatedly beats him as the crowd cheers and Jenny screams for him to stop. Cutting declares he will let Amsterdam live as "a freak, worthy of Barnum's museum of wonders" and burns a knife blade into Amsterdam's cheek.

Afterwards, in hiding, Jenny nurses Amsterdam back to health, and implores him to leave New York for California with her. They are visited by Walter "Monk" McGinn (Gleeson), who was a mercenary for Vallon in the battle of the Five Points. He gives Amsterdam a straight razor that had belonged to Amsterdam's father, and the courage to rise up again. Amsterdam places a dead rabbit on a fence in Paradise Square. The rabbit finds its way to Cutting, who sends Happy Jack to find out who sent the message. Amsterdam ambushes Happy Jack in the catacombs, strangles him, and hangs his body in the Square. In retaliation, Cutting has Johnny beaten nearly to death and run through with an iron pike. When McGloin goes to pray at a Catholic church, and sees Amsterdam's friend, Jimmy Spoils (Gilliard), he objects to letting a "nigger" in the church. Amsterdam and his friends respond by beating McGloin. The Nativists march to the Catholic Church, where the Irish stand on the steps in defense. Cutting promises to return when they are ready. Tweed (Broadbent) approaches Amsterdam with a plan to defeat Cutting: Tweed will back the candidacy of "Monk" McGinn for sheriff in return for the Irish vote. On election day, Cutting and Amsterdam force people to vote at the polls, some more than once, with the result that "Monk" wins with more votes than there are voters. Cutting confronts McGinn, who does not respond, suggesting they discuss the matter democratically. Cutting then throws a meat cleaver into McGinn's back, killing him with his own shillelagh. During McGinn's funeral, Amsterdam issues a traditional challenge to fight, which Cutting accepts. Jenny books passage for California, believing Amsterdam will die in spite of his assurance he won't.

The New York City draft riots break out, and many upper-class citizens and African-Americans are attacked by the rioters. Union soldiers enter the city to put down the riots. As the gangs meet, they are hit by shells from naval ships in the harbor firing directly into Paradise Square. Many are killed, and an enormous cloud of dust and debris covers the area. Union soldiers then fire into the square, killing numerous people, including McGloin. Amsterdam and Cutting exchange blows in the haze, then are thrown to the ground by another shell blast. When the smoke clears, Cutting discovers he has been hit by a piece of shrapnel, and declares, "Thank God, I die a true American." Amsterdam stabs him, and Cutting dies, his hand locked in Amsterdam's. Jenny later finds him, having been caught up in the mob.

Cutting is buried in Brooklyn, in view of the smoke-filled Manhattan skyline, next to Vallon's grave, which Amsterdam and Jenny visit before they leave together. Amsterdam narrates New York would be rebuilt, but they are no longer remembered, as if "we were never here". The scene then shifts, as modern New York City is built, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center, and the graves of Cutting and Vallon gradually deteriorate.


  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon
  • Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill "the Butcher" Cutting
  • Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane
  • Liam Neeson as "Priest" Vallon
  • Jim Broadbent as William M. Tweed
  • Henry Thomas as Johnny Sirocco
  • Brendan Gleeson as Walter "Monk" McGinn
  • Gary Lewis as McGloin
  • John C. Reilly as Happy Jack Mulraney
  • Stephen Graham as Shang
  • Larry Gilliard Jr. as Jimmy Spoils
  • Eddie Marsan as Killoran
  • Alec McCowen as Reverend Raleigh
  • David Hemmings as John F. Schermerhorn
  • Cara Seymour as Hell-Cat Maggie
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths as P. T. Barnum
  • Barbara Bouchet as Mrs. Schermerhorn
  • Michael Byrne as Horace Greeley
  • John Sessions as Harry Watkins
  • Richard Graham as Harvey-Card Player
  • Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Mr. Legree


"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
Filmmaker Martin Scorsese grew up in New York's "Little Italy" in 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. He became curious about the area's history:
"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?"
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. Scorsese saw the potential for an American epic about the battle for the modern American democracy. 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, but it took twenty years to get the production moving forward. Difficulties arose with reproducing the monumental city scape of 19th-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. The production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio in Rome, Italy, where sets were produced to create 19th-century New York. Production designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of mid-nineteenth century buildings, consisting of a five-block area of Lower Manhattan, including the Five Points slum, a section of the East River waterfront and 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. For the Five Points, Ferretti recreated George Catlin's painting of the area.

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, long-lost accents of the Yankee "Nativists", such as Bill Cutting, 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.

Due to the strong personalities and clashing visions of director and producer, the three year production became a story in and of itself. 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. The increased budget made the film's success vital to Miramax. 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 Towers, despite their having been leveled by the attacks over a year before the film's release. 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.

Weinstein kept demanding cuts to the film's length, and some of those cuts were eventually made. In December 2001, Jeffrey Wells (then of Kevin Smith's website) 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."

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."


See Gangs of New York: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture for more information Robbie Robertson supervised the soundtrack's collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks.

Historical accuracy

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.

Asbury's book described the Bowery Boys, Plug Uglies, Shirt Tails, and the Dead Rabbits. The last were so named after their battle standard, a dead rabbit on a pike. The book described William Poole, the inspiration for 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 murdered 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. The book 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 and was played by Cara Seymour in the film.

Anbinder opined 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". All the sets were built completely on the exterior stages of Cinecittà Studios in Rome. By 1860, New York City had 200,000 Irish, in a population of 800,000. 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.

According to author and journalist Pete Hamill:
"...The Irish hoodlums established the nexus between New York crime and New York politics that would last more than a century. A path was established among the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, the Bowery Boys that continues all the way to today's Latin Kings, Crips and Bloods."
According to Paul S. Boyer, a U.S. cultural and intellectual historian:
"The period from the 1830s to the 1850s was a time of almost continuous disorder and turbulence among the urban poor. The 1834"44 decade saw more than 200 major gang wars in New York City alone, and in other cities the pattern was similar."
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."
The large gang fight depicted in the film as occurring in 1846 is fictional, though one between the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits in the Five Points on July 4, 1857, is not included in the film. Vincent DiGirolamo concludes:
"Gangs of New York becomes a historical epic with no change over time. The effect is to freeze ethnocultural rivalries over the course of three decades and portray them as irrational ancestral hatreds unaltered by demographic shifts, economic cycles, and political realignments."
The Draft Riots are depicted mostly as acts of property destruction; however, mobs physically attacked blacks, lynching several, and there were more than one hundred deaths, most of which were African-Americans. Irish gangs targeted blacks because of competition for work. In the film, Chinese Americans were portrayed as having their own community and public venues, but significant Chinese emigration to New York City did not begin until 1869 (although the Chinese emigrated to America as early as the 1840s), the time when the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed. The Chinese theater on Pell Street was not completed until the 1890s. The Old Brewery, the overcrowded tenement shown in the movie in both 1846 and 1862"63, was demolished in 1852.


The original target release date was December 21, 2001, in time for the 2001 Academy Awards, however the production overshot that goal as Scorsese was still filming. 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.

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.

After three years in production, the film was released on December 20, 2002; a year after its original planned release date. 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."


Box office

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

Critical reception

Reviews of the eventual release in 2002 were generally positive, with Daniel Day-Lewis' performance receiving the most praise by critics"?the review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes reporting 75% of the 202 reviews that they tallied were favorable. The RT Critical Consensus reads, "Though flawed, the sprawling, messy Gangs of New York is redeemed by impressive production design and Day-Lewis's electrifying performance."

The review aggregate website Metacritic awarded Gangs of New York a Metascore of 72, indicating generally favorable reviews.

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. Paul Clinton of CNN called the film "a grand American epic."

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 what he considered the meticulous attention to historical detail and production design for particular praise.

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

Awards won

  • BAFTAs: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Florida Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director (Martin Scorsese)
  • Golden Globes: Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Original Song (U2 for "The Hands That Built America")
  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Original Song (U2 for The Hands That Built America)
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti)
  • New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Online Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • San Diego Film Critics Society Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Satellite Awards: Best Art Direction (Dante Ferretti), Best Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)
  • Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Director (Martin Scorsese)
  • Vancouver Film Critics Circle: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis)

See also

  • Irish Americans in New York City
  • List of identities in The Gangs of New York (book)

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