Our history teachers told us that America, especially New York in
the 19th and early 20th centuries, was a melting pot where the
peoples of many nations struggled through adversity to happily merge
in the formation of one nation. Martin Scorsese, who has directed
grim pieces of Americana like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and
“Casino,” tells a very different story in his new film, “The Gangs of
It is an arresting epic that gives a new twist to the old myth
about a pivotal period of American history. It is also a sordid and
depressing story about how a group of people living in the melting
pot committed crimes to protect what little they had and to dominate
those different from them.
As the movie opens, a gang of Irish immigrants who call themselves
the Dead Rabbits prepare for battle with the reigning gang called the
Natives for control of the impoverished Five Points neighborhood of
lower Manhattan. It is a protracted, brutal battle fought with
knives, clubs and cleavers that leaves the winter snow stained red
and covered with dead and wounded.
The leader of the Natives, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, played by
Daniel Day Lewis, kills the leader of the Dead Rabbits while the
Irishman’s son watches. Sixteen years later, in 1862, the son,
Amsterdam Vallon, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, emerges from a
reformatory and returns to Five Points to take revenge on his
The story wanders the filthy streets and colorful dives of Five
Points, where the thieves, thugs and crooked politicians plot against
each other to control their pathetic little hell. In the background,
the nation is destroying itself in its Civil War. Ships arrive in New
York harbor to unload coffins of those killed in action, and
conscripts, many of them poor or just immigrated, climb on board for
their journey to death.
The film is about greed, power and violence. There is no nobility
here. The only character who understands the self-destructive
stupidity of it all is Jenny Everdeane, Vallon’s girlfriend, played
by Cameron Diaz.
The movie is less about the characters than about what some
native-born and immigrant poor did to get ahead in America.
Scorsese’s gangs belong to loosely knit organizations, prototypes of
the Italian gangs that in the 20th century became the Mafia. There
must have been some honest, hard-working people living in New York
and America in the mid-19th century, but Scorsese did not find them.
This is not a feel-good film. It is an unsentimental and visually
stunning expedition into a little known corner of American history.
It is worth the price of a ticket, if you have a stomach for it.
* DENNIS PISZKIEWICZ is a Laguna Beach resident.
‘Two Towers’ is awesome
Hordes of gnarled humanoid beasts gnashed their pernicious teeth,
holding their crude weapons and poised for battle, and that was just
the line at the concession.
Honestly, though, I must use the apt analysis and eloquent words
of my close friend and declare “The Two Towers” a totally awesome
One could refer to it as a masterpiece that blends conventional
acting with superb special effects. The surreal fantasy world could
be described as inspired.
The charm and poise of Viggo Morentsen, as the gallant Strider,
and Elijah Wood, as the conflicted Frodo Baggins, deserve nothing
short of our adulation.
But to say that this movie is totally awesome will suffice.
Starting where “The Fellowship of the ring” leaves off, with
Strider, Gimli and Legolas dutifully pursuing their captive comrades,
this film keeps perfect stride with the first installment.
Familiar faces are combined with new and fascinating characters.
“The Two Towers” has no compunction about drawing a clear line
between good and evil, while allowing Gollum to remind us that
temptation is ever present.
Overall, This film is absolutely beguiling and, oh, totally
* EVAN MARMOL is a Laguna resident. He graduated from UC Irvine
with a degree in psychology and social behavior.