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New York City, 1863. Before there was the city we know today, a city of wealth, power and infinite dreams, New York was a very different place, a fledgling young city where the desire for a better life raged in crime-ridden streets. Here, as the Nation’s own survival was being tested by the ongoing Civil War, a vast and dangerous underworld was born in the streets.

These were the Gangs of New York, as portrayed in Herbert Asbury’s classic book, whose racketeering, bootlegging, swindling, gambling and murdering would become legendary – and whose culture of corruption threatened the very survival of America’s working people.

In the young, unfinished City, it was a time of ruthlessness, intolerance and fear. But it was also a time of extraordinary bravery, as those pushed to the edge fought for the freedom of future generations.

Director Martin Scorsese sets his epic drama Gangs of New York in this defining moment in New York City history, an era whose conflicts helped define who and what makes an American. Against the backdrop of this brave new world unfolds a story about a fatherless son’s search for honor, vengeance and the courage to remake his life.

Scorsese says, “Ever since I was a child growing up in Lower Manhattan, I was drawn to stories of Old New York. Each day, as I explored the neighborhood streets, I slowly uncovered clues to an extraordinary but relatively unknown period in the City’s and our country’s history. The 1860s seemed to overflow with unbelievable stories of the working classes; of the waves of immigrants who crowded the streets and alleyways; of the corrupt politicians; and of the legends of the underworld who fought to control it all. They are the stories of the testing of America and what the young country stood for. They are the stories of our roots.”

Gangs of New York introduces today’s world to the Five Points, a dark, teeming corner of the city known to New Yorkers of long ago as the center of vice and chaos. Into this frontier of extreme lawlessness, arrives the young Irish American Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio). Amsterdam is the orphaned son of the slain Priest Vallon – once chief warrior of the Dead Rabbits gang that rallied the Irish immigrants of the Five Points – and a man intent on a reckoning.

After 16 long years in a “House of Refuge,” Amsterdam has returned to the Five Points to hunt down his father’s killer. His target is William Cutting AKA “Bill the Butcher” (Daniel Day-Lewis), who has since become the merciless new leader of the neighborhood, a Nativist who detests the newly arrived immigrants and is determined to fend off all so-called “foreign invaders.” Each year, on the anniversary of Priest Vallon’s death, the victory is commemorated with a celebration – with invitations handed out only by way of the Butcher. Amsterdam’s plan is clear: to lie in wait and slay his father’s killer on this, the annual night when the Butcher celebrates his great victory with a roll of the drum and a sip from a glass of fire. As Amsterdam articulates, “when you kill a king, you don’t stab him in the dark. You kill him where the whole court can watch him die.”

Film Info

(2013)
2 min 32 sec Duration
68,895 views
  • Posted: November 29, 2007
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Writer: Martin Scorsese
  • Studio: Miramax Films
  • Release: December 20, 2002
  • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz

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