Saturday, November 14, 2015

In short: Gangs of New York (2002)

For quite a few people (particularly those that didn’t already throw their hands up in disgust over Casino, which I rather love), though certainly not all, this seems to be the film where Martin Scorsese lost it. Me, coming to it after a decade or so of thinking they were right, think these people, and therefore yesterday’s me, are dead wrong, and this just might be one of the man’s masterpieces. Fortunately, we still can look down on The Aviator.

There’s no need to go into technical accomplishments, I think, but it seems rather important to me to emphasise how much this is the perfect, horrifying, pretty damn apocalyptic epos of how the US look from over here: a place divided by tribal lines of race everybody is always on about but only wants to change by kicking other people in the dirt, and by lines of class everybody pretends don’t exist; a place that channels its guilt and its pressures into horrifying outbursts of ritualistic violence that also just happen to distract the people involved in them from what’s really going on around them. Not that Europe 2015 and our willingness to let people just die at our doorsteps and to only ever take an interest in our own catastrophes looks much better there, mind you.

Gangs takes this basic fact about America and rams it home in exhausting, sometimes exhilarating, generally operatic and often terrifying ways with a combination of highly stylized yet pretty perfect acting performances, the technical accomplishments I’m not mentioning, and an often surprising streak of compassion that’s never undermining the horrors of the film (as a film about systemic horror, this is as much a horror film as Halloween is, just about a different kind of horror) but helps to avoid cynicism and provides humanity in places where you’d least expect it. And while Marty’s at it, he also deconstructs a classic tale of revenge (or rather, crushes it under the boot heel of history), and breaks every thinking viewer’s heart.

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