The streets erupt in a saturnalia of lawlessness, to which the director adds an inspired touch: Scorsese has taken us back to a New York before skyscrapers, even before Italians, when Anglo-Saxons and Irish re-enacted ancient sectarian feuds. He plays William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, a terrifying career psychopath and meat merchant with a glass eye that has an American eagle in place of a pupil. As all the film world knows, the egregious Miramax producer has hacked down director Martin Scorsese's projected three-hour-plus epic about 19th-century gang warfare in pre-modern New York into a reasonably manageable minutes. DiCaprio actually has a nice moment of insolent puzzlement when a Butcher gang member bafflingly calls him a "fiddlin' Ben"; it's like the classic pool-room fight scene in Mean Streets, when the wise guys try to decide if being called "mook" is an insult. This is a triumphant return to the screen for Day-Lewis after his five-year break, reputedly partly spent in Florence pursuing the craft of the shoemakers - cobblers, in fact. Wonderful spectacle, terrific acting and toweringly great film-making.
In another scene, he demonstrates how to kill a man by stabbing a dead pig in various places, gasping and sweating with exertion.
Gangs of New York
Scorsese thinks big, acts big, films big. Moreover, perhaps as a result of yearning for post-teen seriousness, or because of a reportedly strained on-set relationship with the director, DiCaprio rarely smiles, which is a pity, because that is when his full leonine beauty and charisma burst out of the screen. There's a terrible moment when Leo gets horribly headbutted and a white-hot knife blade is pressed to his cheek. It's a movie with a thousand times more energy and life and sheer virility than anything else Hollywood has to offer. Introduced to a society lady, he kisses her perfumed hand like any boulevardier and murmurs: By comparison, DiCaprio holds his end up perfectly satisfactorily but looks callow, and a very great deal of what was originally his character development as he amasses his own tribal following has clearly been lost in the edit.