Of New York - Dir: Martin Scorsese
Of New York has had so much publicity and marketing thrown at in the
past few months that anyone not having heard of it must be Saddam Husseins
lonely companion in his subterranean bunker. The reason for this is that
Miramax films (Harvey and Bob Weinstein) invested a huge $100m in the
production of this film. Thus the inevitable clash between art and commerce
come into play, a clash that becomes more apparent about ninety minutes
into the film. Let me start at the beginning:
The film is a period gangster story loosely based upon rise and fall of
the gang / Irish - immigrant culture in New York in the middle of the
1800s culminating in the violence that swept the city in the riots
of 1863. Any claims that the film is more biographical than fictional
should be viewed with a little suspicion though.
The film stars the ladies favourite coffee-maker, Leonardo Di Cappuccino
along with Daniel (Bill the Butcher) Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. The film
opens with a prologue: a battle between two gangs; On one side Liam (The
Priest) Neesons Irish immigrants and on the other side Daniel Day-Lewiss
gang, descended from Irish immigrants. This culminates in Bill the Butcher
slaying The Priest, witnessed by Cappuccino as a young boy. After this
the immigrants are told to disband and Day-Lewis and his gang are left
to rule the blossoming New York gang world.
The prologue over, we are taken forward a number of years so that the
young Cappuccino is now a strapping young man with revenge on his mind.
Then, through a series of events he finds himself in the favour of the
unknowing Bill the Butcher and as the story unfolds further he saves the
life of Bill the Butcher. This dichotomous element thrown upon the Cappuccino
character is excellent and is further enhanced by Bill the Butchers
praise and chivalrous dignity of the slain Priest.
The film is sliced (or should I say spliced) into two halves, the first
half ending with Bill the Butcher having a midnight heart to heart with
Cappuccino. This first half of the film is excellent, obviously there
are some short-comings, most notably the very brief appearance of Liam
Neeson, who has such a presence and enigmatic air about him, but this
is more than made up with by the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who produces
one the best performances I have seen in the last 10 years. Truly amazing.
That $100m also gives a good showing in the form of the huge sets built
in order to recreate that 1860s New York.
The second half of the film starts immediately after that scene and events
seem to happen at not only an alarmingly quick pace but also a rather
simplistic narrative unfolds as Cappuccinos identity is revealed
to Bill the Butcher and the film begins is inexorable journey to the confrontation
between Cappuccino and Bill the Butcher. This comes as somewhat of a let
down as the relationship between the two in the first half is so interesting
and beguiling. This duel takes places amongst the chaos of the 1863 riots
and much of the $100m budget is also apparent in this finale.
Cappuccino and Diaz give reasonable performances giving themselves a few
points in the acting kudos stakes but it is Day-Lewis who steals the show.
Other notable mentions should be given to Brendan Gleeson, who plays the
Monk. Gleeson matches Neeson for screen presence and enigma but seems
to have much of his performance left on the cutting room floor; And also
Jim Broadbent who plays William Tweed. Other supporting characters are
briefly introduced too but seem to have virtually no further part in the
story, again perhaps cut out in order to save time.
So why is the second half such a disappointment? Well in order to get
more people into the cinema each day the shorter a film is the more performances
can be screened each day. The original cut of the film was rumoured to
be four hours long but the agreement Scorsese had with Miramax was that
the film should run no longer than 170 minutes. Add to this the completely
inappropriate U2 pop song tagged onto the end of the film and we see the
marketing men have been crunching numbers again. Thus we can wait for
the DVD which hopefully will have the directors cut of the film.
6/10 (But worth seeing at the cinema due to its epic nature)