“Gangs of New York” opens in 1846 in wild, snowy Five Points, New York, as a gang of Protestant natives led by “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Day-Lewis) engage in battle bloody with a mob of Irish Catholic immigrants calling themselves the Dead Rabbits. After fierce fighting, Bill kills the leader of the Dead Rabbits, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), leaving his young son orphaned and declaring victory complete. Fast forward 16 years and “Amsterdam” Vallon (DiCaprio) returns to the neighborhood seeking revenge for his father’s death. He fights his way through Bill’s gang and becomes the dreaded leader’s protege, biding his time.
In the meantime, he falls in love with a pickpocket named Jenny (Diaz) while Bill enters politics supporting corrupt public servant William H. Tweed (Jim Broadbent). After a jealous rival love reveals Amsterdam’s true identity, he goes into hiding but reappears as the leader of the resurrected Dead Rabbits gang, persuading some of his father’s old and senior associates to join him. As hostilities between the two gangs resume and the two prepare for another deadly battle for supremacy, the Draft Civil War riots break out and disrupt their brutal turf war.
Scorsese’s first cut lasted well over three hours, but Harvey Weinstein lobbied to cut it down to the more manageable 167-minute version we have today. Despite its great length, it feels like a film that has lost much of its flavor and texture, with much of the fascinating historical detail relegated to the setting while the generic fictional story is spread too thinly. I find myself wishing for a VR edition where I could break away from the plot and just explore the wonderful settings instead.