"America was born in the streets" stated the posters when Gangs of New York was ready to conquer the theater screens; and that was years after Scorsese stated his intention of making the film. Some concepts are hard to materialise, especially if they evolve around the "think big" motto. And Martin Scorsese was never quite a fan of whatever small; that's why we love him.
I decided to write on this particular film for couple of reasons. Not only because it's on the big screen again for us here, but also because it marked the change of perspective for blonde bombshell Cameron Diaz. Watching Bad Teacher (2011) on a friend's laptop recently, while recovering from a serious hangover that went hand in hand with a memory gap almost as bad as in the eponymous movies, I couldn't help thinking what went wrong. Not with me and my total inability to stay sober even with a small quantity of alcohol, but with Cameron. This athletic and occasionally stunning girl that had a big moment when she starring in There's Something About Mary back on 1998 has a valid, but uneven and frivolous career. Is it her looks that deprive her of serious roles? I don't think so; looks are only too easy to adjust and her role in Gangs of New York is a good example. Is it her fault or her agent's? Which means, is her agent incompetent or is she dumb and unable to carve a smart career for her? It can be that things are simple, though, and I complicate them. Maybe the girl doesn't give a damn. Actresses can be shallow (or simple) enough to be tremendously happy with being a Charlie's Angel or Princess Fiona, getting roles in unimportant blockbusters and getting involved with assholes with the calibre of Justin Timberlake. I cannot deny that she is hard working, though. To cut a long story short, nobody could tell that Cameron, after working with Spike Jonze in Being John Malkovich, Oliver Stone in (the mediocre, but still) Any Given Sunday and Scorsese would still opt for the easy way. Having give all those chances and still sticking to the silly silliness of Bad Teacher is just disappointing. No offence, Bad Teacher is a funny film, but any blonde Hollywood newbie could play the role. I would expect Cameron to get involved in more substantial projects, like Charlize Theron, for instance (who started with Campari and look what she's up to now!).
Back to Gangs of New York, Cameron was not inefficient. She was not overwhelming either, but it was a first. Daniel Day-Lewis is the one stealing the show there as Bill the Butcher, a bad guy who kills out of blood thirst and hatred. Roger Ebert noticed the difference between the characters in Gangs of New York and in some of his earlier movies: there, the characters were killing because they had to, it was part of the deal to get rich, get women or rule the neighbourhood. No such noble (sic) motivation in the epic tale of America's establishment. "I think Scorsese liked the heroes of GoodFellas, Casino and Mean Streets, but I'm not sure he likes this crowd.", he writes.
It is a violent, fast-paced film (there have been accusations that Harvey Weinstein has "butchered" the film in the editing process to make sure it could be easily digested from audiences) with a not very convincing Leonardo di Caprio, but amazingly so artistic features, such as sets and costumes -they actually earned a few awards for their historic realism. New York and its humble and vile beginnings; one could expect Scorsese would be the director for it, this city has been a great inspiration and cinematic premise for him since the beginning. The soundtrack features The Hands that built America by U2 and...whatelse? Aha, the photography is great, too. I was shocked by its goriness when I first saw it (bloodsheds and all that) and I found it quite deep, something that I'd take back, if I was to compare it with the director's earlier works. Still, it's an interesting and visually stunning film.
* The photo above is taken on the set of Gangs of New York.
AGENDA: Gangs of New York, 17/4, 20.30 and 23/4/12, 18.30, Cinematheque Luxembourg, More info