Gangs of New York is a vengeful story based in 19th Century Manhattan. In 1860, Amsterdam Vallan (DiCaprio) is a young man who sets out to avenge the death of his father by killing his murderer, William Cutting a.k.a. “Bill the Butcher” (Day-Lewis). The story is raised out of the conflicts between the American born “Natives,” and the unwelcome Irish immigrants coming into the area, all being set in the Five Points District of New York, a seemingly barren and extremely violent neighborhood. Amsterdam’s father was killed in a gang war between the natives and the Irish at the hands of rival gang leader Bill the Butcher, a sadistic and remorseless thug who maintains the Native gang in order to “protect” their country from the hundreds of immigrants who came off the boats into America everyday. Ultimately, Amsterdam avenges his father’s death, and the movie ends after the historical “draft riots,” and in the middle of the Civil War.
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This film tells a small piece of American history, as many historical events and figures are depicted in the movie. In his show, All Things Considered, Robert Siegel interviews historian Tyler Anbinder to help point out the historical discrepancies in the film. Anbinder states how the film overall does a good job at depicting the conflict between the native born Americans and the settling foreigners immigrating to the area, as well as the Irish’s struggle to get a “fair share of the American pie.” The film also did very well in visually portraying the Five Points district, when it came to its scenery and setting. The purpose of the infamous “Draft Riots,” where mobs burned, killed and looted, rioting against the Civil War draft, was also a good portrayal in the movie. The riots were started mostly because of their refusal to fight for the end of slavery, and ended up taking out their anger on many of the African Americans in the city, lynching them in the streets. However, the major struggle of the Irish in Five Points was somewhat misplaced in the timeline, as by the Civil War the Irish were doing much better in society. According to Anbinder, director Martin Scorsese exaggerated and over-dramatized the actual amount of violence going on in that area during that era. Anbinder also listed other small inaccuracies, such as the time of year certain events took place, and overdone violence. One famous historical figure in the film was William “Boss” Tweed, a notorious politician and the leader of New York’s Tammany Hall. Tweed controlled Democratic nominations, fixed elections, and later held higher positions in government. But early on, he saw the Irish as an asset to the electoral process in New York. The depiction of Boss Tweed, played by Jim Broadbent, was also done acceptably. Anbinder concludes that when it comes to the historical specifics, the movie was satisfactory, but when it came to the overall conflict and premise, it was done exceptionally.
In Gangs of New York, politics is one of the main themes. The American born natives basically run the show, holding high positions in government and maintaining a violent presence in the streets. All the while, immigrants couldn’t get better jobs or earn a descent wage without having to deal with the will of the natives. In the film, government only had one role, and that was to reinforce the actions and conclusions of the natives. This film basically shows how corrupt a city can be on both sides of the spectrum, because ironically, the immigrant population had to cheat an election just to get one of their own into office. Personally, I find it hard to imagine living in such a place, with hardly any social order or safety.
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