As I’ve stated before, every film-maker has to make their war film (I mentioned it in my review of the Adventures of Baron [von] Munchausen).
This would be Scorsese’s war film.
Sure, he’s made movies about mafia wars and taxi-drivers before, but never have their been battle scenes as setup here.
The movie starts with a heavy piece of battle that is to be the reason behind Leonardo DiCaprio’s revenge later in the film—his father is killed by Daniel Day-Lewis’ character Bill the Butcher.
Yet, the more I reflect on their performances as the two leads, the more I feel a disdain rising towards this film.
Don’t get me wrong, Day-Lewis and DiCaprio turn in fine performances—the former being better than latter almost obviously—but there were just so many things within the film that didn’t jive with me.
For example, the beginning battle scene that I mentioned: why the hell was there a trip-hop soundtrack behind it? What the fuck was Howard Shore or Scorsese thinking when they agreed to do that? Were they listening to too much Portishead? It was so out of context and off-kilter to the scene that, within the first half-hour I was already turned off by the film.
Just to get my gripes with Howard Shore’s scoring over with, there is a running theme throughout this film that sounds eerily similar to Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War.” Since this composition’s inception into pop-culture, its driving beats and waxing and waning themes have been mimicked throughout film and television (another fine example is during Apocalypse Now, there scene where they travel up the river and it sounds like “Mars,” but with a tripped-out synthesizer instead of a driving low-end brass and string sound). But in this film, it just added to my hate for the score.
And then added to my dislike of the film.
Halfway through, I stopped giving a goddam about Day-Lewis’ racism and started to ponder why DiCaprio put up with it for so long. What was he waiting for? Christmas?
Though it became obvious that he got on his good side just to make an attempt at killing him, I thought it wouldn’t have been a smart move for him to make. If you take out the leader of your slum, without a coup to back you up, who then takes over but his second-hand man with all the same policies and procedures?
That’s just basic military strategy: if you’re going to assassinate or attempt to overthrow a leader, have a solid coup d’tat and maybe a manifesto to go with the public assassination.
Instead, he just brashly throws a knife at him. And then gets his gang together.
There also seemed to be no point in having the love story in the film. Since DiCaprio obviously cares more about revenge than about love, it was almost as if it was tossed in there to show that, “Sure, he cares a whole shitload about revenge, but he also has a soft spot for good, late 19th century, pussy.” Cameron Diaz really brought the whole film down because, when you put two great male leads like that in a head-to-head battle for control down the stretch of the run-time, you can’t have a hollow actress like Diaz come in and try to fluff the scene up when there’s blood running down the walls.
To cap this review off, I’ll end on a better note: the set pieces and the tone of the film were pitch-perfect for a period piece like this one. The dilapidation and slummy atmosphere really gave a visual reference to what history books talked about when they mention Civil War-era New York City. It was just a fucked up place with a lot of immigrants no one seemed to want.
Dare I say much like Operation Iraqi Freedom-era California…?
But I guess there’s a different time and place for all that politics bullshit.