Monday, July 4, 2011

Day 185: Gangs of New York (2002)

R, 2 hr. 48 min.  Directed by: Martin Scorsese.  Release Date: December 20, 2002.  DVD Release Date: July 1, 2003.

My house is, as is the norm today, filled with my family, and we’re going to spend the day stuffing our faces and watching fireworks… so I had to sneak this in early today.  It’s going to be a weird day.  We’re celebrating the birth of our nation in my home, but we’re also remembering that my father’s memorial took place the last time we were all together.  Like I said, it’s going to be a weird day, more bittersweet than the usual, well, not joy, but fun day that I generally have planned for this, the day of my nation's birth.  I had originally intended to watch something a little more… stereotypically patriotic today.   After watching the first thirty minutes or so, hoping that I'd be able to get through this whole thing before my family started waking up and hollering so I'd start my day, I realized that in 200+ years how little has changed.  The clothes are different and the lifestyle is a bit faster paced.  People don't all talk funny anymore depending on where you are.  But in a very backwards and Leo DiCaprio way this movie could serve as a reminder for all of us who are celebrating the birth of their nation today, what exactly it should mean to be an American and what we should and should not be okay with. 

One of the first lines you hear describes New York as ground zero for an ethnic war.  “America for Americans,” is the chant you hear as newly arrived immigrants end their long journey.  It made me wonder if we even really know what an “American” is, or if we have anything like the same definition, which I’m guessing most of us don’t.  In the movie, the Irish are singled out because they’re depicted as people who generally have low-paying jobs, contribute to criminal activities (to include political corruption), and are frequently hard or impossible to understand.  That should sound familiar to Americans who haven’t lived in a cave in the last, oh, few decades.  The times have changed, but circumstances really haven’t, which makes me a little sad.  It seems that throughout our history, there’s always a group that gets the pointy end of the social stick, and those groups never seem to remember their own turn at bat when the pointy end movies on to someone else.  

This movie also made me think of our troops, police, and firefighters serving active duty today.  Six years ago today, I was one of them.  Working yet another holiday, because for whatever reason, no matter what shift rotation I was working, I never landed a holiday off unless I took leave.  I was probably working in the middle of the night and I was in a room where the temperature was set more for the comfort of our computers than our bodies.  You wanna get funny looks?  Try carrying around a heavy coat in July in friggin’ Georgia without explaining.  Lincoln’s Civil War draft plays a big role in the meltdown of this story, and I’m glad that we’ve decided to get rid of the draft; I’m glad that the people in our military VOLUNTEER for service even though that service could require them to give their lives.  Thanks guys.  I hope to be drinking one in your honor in a few hours.

I enjoyed this movie, but it was REALLY long.  I had to take a break.  I’m going to start by giving Daniel Day-Lewis full credit.  Bra-vo!  I’ve said before I’ve never known him not to suck the life out of any performance he finds himself doing.  I can stop saying that now, because he was amazing here.  He’s missing his calling as a bad guy, although I did spend the movie wondering why they made him look so much like Timothy Dalton.  Truth, I thought it WAS Timothy Dalton until I hit IMDB to figure out the casting.  In general, I thought the cast was good, even though it’s filled with people I don’t always love, like Leo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and John C. Reilly… at least, I hope that was John C. Reilly and not Colm Meany.  I tend to get the two of them mixed up, unless the person I’m watching is wearing a Starfleet uniform.  THEN I know who I’m talking about for sure.  They don’t really look the same, but I think the hair is the cause of my confusion.

I can’t speak to the authentic portrayal of this period.  I know there was a riot in New York around the time Lincoln’s draft for the Civil War went into effect.  I know it wasn’t long after Antietam, which fits in with the story line.  I know that Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed both (I think) existed, and that they both worked as a horrifically corrupt political machine.  I don’t know that I buy that these gangs worked so similarly to modern gangs.  The opening scenes feel like a kind of period Boyz ‘N the Hood… just without the drive-bys.  Nothing jumped out and glared at me, although there was a remarkable lot of talk about the “he-she” gang, which I had originally thought was a brothel employing some wicked ugly women.  More details in that will be available in the sequel:  Brokeback Gangs of New York.  Despite all that weirdness, this is a great story of the American, Johnny Appleseed-ish variety, although there’s a ton more violence.  Regardless, this is worth a watch.

Happy birthday, America.  Here’s to many more with happier times ahead.