New York in 1846 is a melting pot for the new world, with ships arriving everyday from Ireland, Germany, England and other European countries filled with the poor looking for a new life in a new world. At the same time a group of protestant Natives lead by Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis) are about to battle an army of catholic Irish immigrants lead by The Priest (Liam Neeson). The battle is over the crossroads of central Manhattan called the Five Points, a slum where only the poor would ever want to live. Watching this battle is the young Amsterdam who witnesses his father The Priest being killed at the hands of the butcher. Upon his death Amsterdam is incarcerated in young offender's school. We then join the story 16 years later as Amsterdam (DiCaprio) is released and returns to the Five Points, and finds things have changed from how he used to remember them. Bill the Butcher is the all powerful gang leader, and everyone works for him, and before long that includes Amsterdam. Unaware of who his new prodigy is, Bill carries on with his business and his friendship to Amsterdam grows in such a way that Bill soon calls him his son. But Amsterdam can't keep the secret for ever and one day he will get his vengeance.
The film is an epic in more ways than one with set designs that are simply astounding and realistic. The story is fictional, but many of the characters did indeed exist in the time frame and are portrayed as they were, such as the politician William “Boss” Tweed who is by far the most famous corrupt politician in American History. And the film also portrays history quite accurately in the time period with the New York Draft riots and political wrong doing of the time. It is fascinating viewing and the film almost works as a thriller, but Dicaprio, some plot holes and uninteresting subplots (such as the romance between Leo and Cameron Diaz) work only to slow the film down. Amsterdam is just too understated and calm and his motives are never explored in such a way that you want to route for his cause. But don't let these little niggles put you off one of the finest, epic movies I have seen in some time and it is just a shame that we don't get Scorsese's preferred cut of the movie.
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