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Sunday, February 16, 2003
SCORSESE GANGS UP ON THE AUDIENCE

Just saw Gangs of New York tonight. This is such an awful movie that I can't even bring myself to relive it for the purposes of reviewing it. The only thing more repugnant than the graphic brutality and filmmaking excesses in this over-long piece of cinematic pretension, is the fact that it is nominated for TEN Academy Awards! It's the kind of project that makes me want to run from Hollywood, and go get a job in a shoe store somewhere in RI.

Screenwriter William Goldman has fortunately written a sufficiently brutal review of Gangs, such that I don't have to.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am sick unto death of feeling guilty
about Martin Scorsese. Here are the names of five great directors: Charlie Chaplin,
Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles. What do they
have in common? For all their fame and brilliance, none has won the Oscar for best
direction. Neither has Scorsese. Should the five have won? Absolutely. But it's not a
mortal sin they didn't. Should Scorsese? You bet. A couple of times. ("Taxi Driver,"
obviously, "Raging Bull," obviously. But I fell in love with his talent earlier on, with
"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.")

This year, more than ever, it's like there's a Byzantine plot to get Scorsese the honor....
And I suspect Scorsese will win, too. But he sure doesn't deserve it, not this year --
"Gangs of New York" is a mess. Please do not sputter on about some of the visuals --
my God, bring Ed Wood back from the dead, give him a hundred mil-plus to play with,
he'd give you some visuals, too.No, the problem with "Gangs of New York" is nothing
new in Scorsese's work -- he has never been secure with a story. No one's much better
with actors or look or camera placement. It's that most crucial director's tool that haunts
him. The reason his movies do not make much, if any, money is not because he is
dealing with esoteric subjects that are above the average moviegoer's head. It's the
clumsy storytelling that frustrates us, sending us out of the theater dissatisfied.

"Gangs" is in trouble from the outset. In the opening scene Leo, at about age 10,
is watching his daddy shave. There is a cut. The razor is given to the kid and then the
father intones the following: "The blood stays on the blade." I have a friend who is so
giddy with the sheer pretentiousness of that line that he says it to everyone. You say
"Good morning." He answers, "Yes, and the blood stays on the blade."

And please do not blame the screenwriter for that. Because when you are dealing with
a giant ape director, they get what they want. And Scorsese chose to open the story
that way. What story though? The lack of an answer is what demolishes the movie. Is
it about gang warfare? Family revenge? Irish immigration? The Civil War? The draft?
Political corruption? Prejudice? These subjects and more, all of them valid enough alone,
flicker in and out, never accumulating or connecting one to the other. One example to
indicate the problem: Two hours and seven minutes into the film, folks, there is a scene
between Leo and the political boss of New York -- and they are discussing a subject never
mentioned before in the movie and which you could not guess if I gave you the rest of my
lifetime: who is going to run for Sheriff. For 10 minutes, an amazing wasted length of movie
time, and especially damaging this late into a pic, we deal with the election of the sheriff
and his subsequent murder and Leo eventually challenging Daniel Day-Lewis to combat.

But we knew from the first sequence that this would happen because Day-Lewis killed
Leo's pop. So now the fight, yes? Nope. Not in this baby. Ten additional minutes drudge
on before they get to it. But this fight was worse -- because you couldn't see it. Scorsese
has hidden it behind the smoke of cannon fire. Nothing to make John Wayne worry. But
the battle is still better than the way the movie ends, with a disgraceful shot of the
World Trade Center. I guess if you can't move people legitimately, you do what you have
to do.
(Originally printed in Variety)

I would rather see The Hours get every award, than see this film get one. And you know how much I loathed The Hours.