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‘New York’ bet pays off

'Gangs' glimpse shows pic's potential

CANNES — The gamble of showing the “Gangs of New York” preview looks like a winning one for helmer Martin Scorsese and Miramax.

The footage was put together in the form of an extra-long trailer, complete with credits and even French subtitles. Action was cut to give a sense of the arc of the entire picture, which now reportedly runs about 164 minutes, with only short portions of individual dramatic scenes and music shaped to underscore this particular material. Strong applause greeted the appetizer at the end.

Film looks physically impressive, dramatically absorbing and historically interesting, although it is impossible to gauge how complex and detailed the entire saga will be.

Pic seems keenly concerned about the political issue of immigration, as the period depicts the stiff “native” resistance to the 15,000 Irish arriving every week on North American shores. In this sense, it feels relevant and provocative, although how the mass audience will respond to this remains questionable and no doubt an issue of much greater concern than that of the film’s quality.

Not surprisingly for the Rome-shot, $100 million-plus production, the film looks exceptionally lavish, with large crowds populating a great many of the street scenes depicting the dingy Five Points area of Manhattan during the period 1846-63. From what can be gleaned from the preview, the storyline is relatively conventional, with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher killing Liam Neeson’s Priest Vallon in front of the latter’s little son Amsterdam, who years later returns in the form of DiCaprio to, first, be adopted by Bill like a son and trained in the ways of crime, only then to turn on his mentor and lead an uprising that coincides with the violent Civil War Draft Riots of 1863.

Aside from the production’s scale, what pops out of the “trailer” is Day-Lewis, who looks amazingly powerful and charismatic as the violent crime lord of Five Points, the “godfather” of his era. As has been seen in photographs, DiCaprio has put his pretty boy image aside in favor of a grimy and thick look, while Cameron Diaz, hair tinted red, comes across like a hellcat as a tough pickpocket. Violence included here is no greater than average, although there is a huge number of knives everywhere, and partial nudity is copious.

The cinematic touchstone for Scorsese this time looks to be Luchino Visconti’s “The Leopard,” an intimate epic that related a comparably convulsive era in Italian history and is known to be one of Scorsese’s favorites.