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It's 1863. As the American Civil War rages in the South, violent race wars in New York's notorious Five Points slums threaten to tear the city apart. The American-born Nativists, led by the ruthless Bill "The Butcher" Cutter (Daniel Day-Lewis), control the points through bloody gang wars. They despise the "invading" immigrants, especially the Irish-Catholics. When Bill dispatches their "Priest" Vallon (Liam Neeson), Vallon's son, Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio), swears vengeance against the Butcher. He grows up to become Bill's trusted right hand man, if only to make revenge all the sweeter.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
With so much to say and so little space, let me "cut" to the chase and say Gangs of New York is an absolutely epic film. A stellar cast, hundreds of extras, a magnificently recreated set, jaw-dropping cinematography, detailed costumes, bloody battle scenes and a historical context made more weighty given New York's recent turmoil. Not to mention one very passionate director; Martin Scorsese, who said this film was "30 years in the making." Indeed, Gangs had plenty of hooplah in the lead up to its February 2003 release. But it's fair to say most audiences were disappointed with the result. It's bloody, but perhaps not as bloody as it might have been given Scorsese's catalogue. It's a very American story, documenting a little-known aspect of their history. And at 166 minutes, it's a long film, even though Scorsese was ordered to cut it down from an original (and truly epic) four or five hours.

Which begs the question; will Scorsese release a director's cut DVD anytime in the future? If so, that will be the DVD to watch, not this. Though a top-notch two-disc edition with DTS sound and some meaty extras, there's still plenty that's been lost in the transition.

Scorsese's full-length commentary might reveal the many hurdles he faced from script to screen, but he instead glosses over the realities with details on the era, the casting, the score and the general production. So what if he wanted The Clash to record the title track when he first came up with the concept in the 70s? What about all the wrangling between him and Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein over the film's length? What about the scenes, the plot-lines he would have left in?

Disc one also has four featurettes. Set Design shows the technical drawings and models that production designer Dante Feretti used to create the set. Exploring the Sets sees Scorsese and Feretti walking through their recreated New York sets (in Rome), which can also be viewed from multiple angles. Costume Design is a simple wardrobe showcase, and finally, History of the Five Points sees Scorsese, his cast and historical advisor Luc Sante bring to light the history of the Five Points slums area. It's interesting stuff, and is accompanied by a Study Guide which features a glossary by Sante and a more in-depth history of the area.

Disc two has a 55-minute Discovery Channel feature called Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York. With a great blend of historical, cast and crew input, it's the best part of the DVD, and is accompanied by U2's Oscar winning music clip. Like Scorsese's film, this DVD seems trimmed of much of its meat. A commentary, four short featurettes, and one decent documentary is really all you get. There are no known plans for a director's cut to be released, but you might want to wait for that instead of this, just in case.

Published July 10, 2003

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(US) - 2002

CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C Reilly, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson.

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

RUNNING TIME: 166 minutes

PRESENTATION: DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, 16.9 widescreen.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Martin Scorsese, 'Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York', four behind the scenes featurettes, 'The Hands that Built America' music video by U2, Trailers.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: July 23, 2003.

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