Mulberry Street... and Worth... Cross and Orange... and Little Water. Each of the Five Points is a finger. When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, any time that I wish, I can turn it against you.
— Bill The Butcher
A 2002 American historical film by Martin Scorsese based on a 1928 nonfiction book of the same name.The year is 1846, and rival gangs are fighting overthe Five Pointsdistrict. Priest Vallon leads the "Dead Rabbits", the gang of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Bill "The Butcher" Cutting leads the anti-immigrant "Natives". During a bloody battle, Bill kills Priest and declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed as Priest's young son Amsterdam watches.15 years later, Amsterdam returns to the Five Points and infiltrates Bill's gang with his childhood friend Johnny's help, working his way into Bill's inner circle. Bill, who never recognizes Amsterdam as the son of his old rival, takes him in as a favorite and mentors him. Amsterdam secretly plots his revenge, but doubts his motivation after saving Bill from an assassin. Amsterdam and Johnny's shared attraction for Jenny, a pretty pickpocket and con artist, further complicates matters.All of this is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and political corruption of the 19th century. The feel of the era is firmly established through small touches, such as Bill's gang mocking a theatre performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the rampant racism of Civil War America is prevalent throughout the film. Bill maintains most of his power through an uneasy alliance with the Tammany Hall political machine; a critical turning point occurs when Amsterdam wins Tammany to his side by promising him the Irish vote. The film's climax occurs as the New York Draft Riots break out and the U.S. government resorts to violence to stop the insurrection.Ends in a famous Time Passes Montage featuring the changing skyline of New York over the years, which caused the director no end of hassle in the wake of 9-11.
This film provides examples of:
Abraham Lincoln: An actor portrays him in a production of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and he is greeted with jeers, food throwing, and shouts of "Down with the Union!" This is a pretty good reflection of how working-class New Yorkers actually felt about President Lincoln. In the 1864 election, certain Irish-American neighborhoods of New York hated Lincoln so much that over 90% of voters in them cast their ballots for McClellan.
Earlier on Bill remarks that they should have ran a better man against Lincoln in the elections when they had a chance, and throws a knife at a picture of Lincoln.
Adaptation Expansion: The book was a sociological study. It had no plot, and certainly no Amsterdam or Jenny.
Action Prologue: The fight between Bill's gang and the Dead Rabbits at the beginning.
All Are Equal in Death: In the end, all of the victims from the Draft Riots get the same barebones burial, despite their race, nationality, social class, or gang alliance.
Aluminium Christmas Trees: "The Butcher" is shown working, indeed, as a butcher. By the time this scene comes out he has been well established as a ruthless murderer and crime lord, increasing the surprise.
This can apply to a number of things in the movie; modern audiences can be shocked and appalled by how New York really was in the 1860's, looking at modern New York now it's almost unbelievable. And yet the film, though taking a few creative liberties, is largely accurate.
Anti-Villain: Bill is a Type 1. He's a vicious, racist nutjob, but he has a sense of honor and a few Pet the Dog moments.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking/False Confession: Boss Tweed needs four hangings to keep crime down, and Bill obliges by getting him four (willing?) petty criminals (?) to hang. One takes pride in being hung in front of his family, since they will be paid for his execution.
Judge: You stand here convicted of lewdness, jackrolling, sneak thievery, chloral hydrating, sodomy, strangulation and enthusiastic corruption of the public good.
Asshole Victim: Specifically McGloin, during the draft riots. In general most of the rioters could count, it's hard to feel sympathy for them after they start murdering black men and burning down random buildings, mugging people on the street, and invading homes and businesses.
Rule of Symbolism: McGloin fought for both the Dead Rabbits and Nativists. The irony does not escape either Bill of his fate, being killed by a third party.
Badass Boast: Just read the top of the page. Especially badass because he's saying this to a powerful politician, the (in)famous Boss Tweed, while on Tweed's home turf. That takes balls.
Badass Longcoat: In his stovepipe hat and "duster" coat, Bill looks like the world's dirtiest circus ringmaster.
Priest Vallon also sports a black one at the beginning of the movie. It stands out against the white snow on the ground.
Badass Mustache: Bill the Butcher and his prominant handlebar mustache certainly qualify.
Badass Preacher: Invoked with "Priest" Vallon who is not an actual priest or clergyman but still goes aroundwearing a dog collar. But played straight with the Bishop.
McGloin: Did you know there's a nigger in the church?!!
(Bishop smacks him across the head with his Crosier)
This is emphasized the most when Bill the Butcher captures him and claims that he will disfigure him with a hot knife. We cut to people gasping at Amsterdam (Di Caprio) in disgust... only to see that Di Caprio looks as handsome as ever with only the slightest cut on his cheek. It was a very Narmful scene for some.
To the film's credit however, it does showcase plenty of dirt and grime amongst the three leading actors. One such notable instance includes the scene in which Amsterdam finally kills Bill; his face is drenched in blood, as is the rest of him. Bill and Jenny don't fare too much better through the riots either.
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: invoked In-universe example. The escaped elephant from Barnum's circus during the riots, as Amsterdam and company stop during their march to just stare in bewilderment, providing the final proof that the world really has gone mad.
Bittersweet Ending: Amsterdam finally gets gets his revenge and kills Bill, and he leaves New York with Jenny. But New York was devastated by the draft riots, and both sides are dead. Despite of this, New York will be rebuilt
Black Comedy: Has its share — for instance, Bill casually chatting up a friend as he walks to the gallows and buying his mother's locket from him.
Black Vikings: Chinese in 1863 New York. Specifically, although there were some back then, they were not enough to have their own community.
Blood Knight: Bill revels in combat, especially the kind involving knives and cleavers and other sharp blades in general.
Bloodless Carnage: Averted. The gang war in the opening scene leaves the snow-covered ground pink with everyone's blood.
Book Ends: Amsterdam receiving praise from both of his father/mentor figures:
The first Natives/Dead Rabbits brawl in 1846:
Priest Vallon (showing a medal of the Archangel Michael): "And what did he do?"
Young Amsterdam: "He cast Satan out of Paradise."
Priest Vallon: "Good boy."
Then, the gang council before the second brawl in 1863:
Bill the Butcher (discussing permitted weapons): "Bricks, bats, axes, knives... pistols?"
Amsterdam: "No... no pistols."
Bill the Butcher: "Good boy."
Boomerang Bigot: The Irish-Catholic McGloin, who joins up with the "Natives" in order to acquire more power on the streets.
His alliance with Bill is also heavily influenced by his hatred of blacks.
Brooklyn Rage: Lower East Side Rage, actually. Brooklyn was mostly farmland at the time.
Calling Me a Logarithm: Subverted when a characters asks Amsterdam and his friends if they take exception to being called "fidlam bens". He replies that he might if he knew what it meant. (Now, if it means "chiselers", then yes, he is offended.)
The Cameo: Director Scorsese is the head of an upper-class household that Jennie robs while pretending to be a housemaid.
Card-Carrying Villain: Bill is well-aware that his beliefs are incompatible with the future, and doesn't really mind change - and it's hinted he welcomes it - but not in his lifetime.
Cloudcuckoolander: Bill, at least in the theater scene and in a less comical fashion than is usually portrayed. After nearly being assassinated by a Gaelic-speaking radical, he screams in pain (reasonably enough), then sticks his finger into the bullet hole and tastes his own blood, lets loose a monumental Cluster F-Bomb and furiously demands that the captured assassin speak English or he will kill him. Then, when he realizes that both the other audience members and the actors on stage are staring at him, he immediately calms down and graciously says: "Tragedians, let us continue." (See also Sophisticated as Hell.)
Color-Coded Characters: The Natives wear blue sashes while the Irish wear red sashes, like the Bloods and the Crips.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: The examples are legion. Chinese immigrants are physically (and violently) prevented from voting. Two rival city fire departments brawl in the street instead of actually putting out the fire. The welfare state is nonexistent, as the only people who give a damn about the sufferings of the slum inhabitants are church leaders and opportunistic "do-gooders" like Boss Tweed. And the only action taken against the threat of epidemic disease is squirting antibiotic gunk all over the streets from time to time.
Dirty Cop: "Happy" Jack Mulraney. Given the place and time period, it's to be expected.
Doesn't Like Guns - Bill the Butcher doesn't like to use guns when he fights, preferring to stick to meat cleavers and butcher's knives, because he follows a strict code of honor. His arch-rival Priest Vallon held the same belief, so when Bill's Natives faced off against Vallon's Dead Rabbits the fight included just about every weapon but guns. This also goes for later in the movie when young Amsterdam Vallon and the resurrected Dead Rabbits negotiate a duel with Bill's gang, and when agreeing on what weapons will be allowed, Amsterdam specifies that there will be no pistols, to which Bill replies "Good boy."
Doing It for the Art - They actually built what was essentially a full scale complete replica of the Five Points in Italy just to film the movie. All of the costumes and props were painstakingly created to be historically accurate too. According to one of the extras on the DVD, George Lucas visited the set and complained to Scorsese that it could all be easily done on computers for much cheaper. But Scorcese, of course, was doing it for the art.
Also noteworthy is how insanely in-character Day-lewis got for Bill the Butcher, right down to learning an extinct accent for the part. The guy even refused to take medicine when he got sick because flu medicine hadn't been invented at the time. But then again, its Daniel Day-Lewis. He ad-libbed tapping his eye with the knife. This trope should be renamed "Daniel Day-Lewis Is A Badass," for God's sake.
Enemy Mine: Nativists and Dead Rabbits can be seen fighting together when the Army attacks New York.
Considering you have Dead Rabbits in the Nativists (like McGloin) already, and the fact that despite all his rantings about the Irish, Cutting is a second-generation Irish himself, it's not surprising.
McGloin's death at the hands of the soldiers enrages a Dead Rabbit into attacking them, despite the fact that he was with the Nativists.
Epic Movie: This was to be Scorsese's Epic Movie, and chef d'ouevre. Executive Meddling caused it to be cut down some, and the acting of the romantic leads has led to mixed critical reception. It's nevertheless every inch an epic film though.
Executive Meddling: Prevented the film from being released after 9-11 and caused it to be cut down quite a bit, causing disjointed segments. (Scorsese doesn't believe in "Director's Cuts").
Scorsese himself said that the reports of conflict between him and Harvey Weinstein were highly exaggerated, and the various cuts were made out of a combination of concerns over production costs and running time. The fact that they collaborated again soon after with the very successful and similarly epic Bio PicThe Aviator should be seen as proof that there was no bad blood between them.
Eye Scream: Bill taps a knife against his glass eye, an effect that was actually improvised by Daniel Day-Lewis with the help of an extra-thick contact lens. Not to mention that Bill says he plucked the eye out himself and mailed it to Priest Vallon because he wasn't able to look the Priest in the eye during his first defeat.
"Gangs of New York. The story of the Irish Immigrant experience, as told by an Italian, an Englishman and a Cuban." note Daniel Day-Lewis was born and grew up in London but has dual British and Irish citizenship.
Famous Last Words: "Thank God, I die a true American." Bill the Butcher's last words, both in Real Life and in the film.note Though their fictional and real life deaths do not mirror each other precisely; for one, William Poole, the Butcher's insperation, died eight years earlier.
Foe Cooties: "I'm not interested in The Butcher's leavings."
Fourth Wall Psych: After killing Monk, Bill looks into the camera to say, "That, my friends, is the minority vote." He's actually talking to the people inside the barber shop.
Friendly Local Chinatown: Where you get to listen to endearingly bizarre "ching-chong" opera music and ogle strumpets imprisoned in birdcages.
Gangsterland: Everybody in the Five Points is either in one of the gangs or has been bribed into doing the gangs' bidding.
Genre-Busting : Screenwriter Jay Cocks described the film as a "Western from Mars", its a reimagination of the past as a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with violent urban street gangs in a context with real menace and violence rather than West Side Story, and a focus and interest on Urban Segregation that would make sociologists and anthropologists proud. Scorsese indeed hoped that the film would launch a new genre to replace The Western, believing that stories in this landscape will have increasing resonance in the years to come.
African beats mixed with the Irish jig ("A jig doing a jig", says Bill), and you get the origins of tap dancing.
An Irishman could never be a sheriff. Sure, boy-o.
Honor Before Reason: This is pretty much Johnny's undoing. He tips Bill off that Amsterdam plans to murder him, and Amsterdam is generous enough to prove Johnny right that same evening. After the assassination attempt failed, Johnny ought to have been sitting pretty favorably in Bill's eye. But then Johnny's guilty conscience impels him to rejoin Amsterdam's crew and, further, to confess his betrayal. Amsterdam turns him out on his ear, and when Bill's men sieze Johnny, the Butcher evidently decides his loyalty isn't worth too much. If Johnny had just stuck with Bill after ratting Amsterdam out, he might've been a lot less sympathetic, but he'd also have been a lot less dead.
Informed Deformity: When Bill has Amsterdam at his mercy, he describes the hellish ways in which he will disfigure him with his knife. When we next see him, he is walking down the street with his face obscured but several onlookers stare in horror, implying Bill stuck to his word. When the camera pans around, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference aside from a slight scar on his cheek that is hardly noticeable.
In the Back: Bill the Butcher throws a meat cleaver into Monk's back after he is elected sheriff, before beating Monk to death with his own shillelagh.
Irony: Bill spits when a Tammany representative tells him he will be rewarded for bringing Irishmen to the polls, and says he will not play a part in handing the country over to those who played no part in fighting for it; cut to newly arrived Irishmen being made to sign enlistment papers and given guns and uniforms along with their application for citizenship, and getting on a troopship while coffins are being offloaded.
Most of the Bill's hatred for the Irish is hilarious considering Day-Lewis himself is a naturalised Irish Citizen.
A more meta example of Irony is that Day-Lewis was cast as Lincoln over a decade later in Lincoln
Ironic Echo: Happy Jack hangs his watch on a lamp post, to demonstrate no one will touch it. Jack's corpse is hung from a lamp post after Amsterdam kills him.
Jenny's last name, on the other hand, is Aberdine, an Irish town.
Last but certainly not least, is Bill "The Butcher" Cutting.
Melting Pot: Lampshaded by Bill watching a black youth dancing on a table.
Bill: Look at that. What in Christ's name is that? Rythms of the dark continent, thrown into the kettle with an irish shindig. Stir it around a few times, pour it out as a fine American mess. A jig doing a jig.
Mercy Kill: Johnny. Also, Bill does this to Priest Vallon at the start of the film when he tells his son not to look away.
Mortal Wound Reveal: During the final battle, after the duel is interrupted by cannon fire and the smoke clears, Bill the Butcher and Amsterdam sit up. It's revealed that Bill the Butcher has a shrapnel wound in his gut.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Cameron Diaz is the most guilty of this, but she's only the most guilty. Meanwhile you have English method-Nazi Daniel Day-Lewis, who listened to ancient recordings of William Jennings Bryan to get a better approximation of a New York accent that doesn't even exist anymore. Justified for Amsterdam, who "lost his language" after living for sixteen years in an orphanage run by Americans, so a slip-up could be expected.
Bill talks to Arthur, one man about to be hanged, and offers him $1.50 for his late mother's locket. While this may seem petty and cruel, Bill then tells him genuinely, "I'll miss you, Arthur. See you in the Hot Country, shamus." Keep in mind, Bill is a Nativist who is giving a traditional Irish benediction.
Precision F-Strike: "Heres da ting: I don't give a tuppeny fuck about your moral conundrum you meat-headed shit-sack. ...That's more or less da ting."
"Mr. Tammany Fucking Hall..."
Public Domain Character: Boss Tweed, head of New York City's Tammany Hall Democratic machine and (therefore) more or less boss of working-class New York (rich people were, increasingly, Republicans). Bill is also based on a real person, but many more liberties are taken with him (including the name of the character) in order to make a compelling story.
Reality Is Unrealistic: the fight scenes contain no ramping, Slow Mo or elaborate choreography and look ridiculous. People are punched and then fall over in an effect that is almost narmful, even though it's probably one of the most accurate depictions of a massive brawl in recent cinema. After seeing stylised fight scenes in movies, more genuine ones look ridiculous.
Maggie the Cat may seem like a ridiculous charicature, but she was a real person and exactly as depicted in the film.
"But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mildly swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again... for the rest of time... it would be like no one even knew we was ever here." Doubles as Tearjerker.
The Reveal: The title card letting us now we're in New York 1846, after the introduction that seemed to have been lifted from the Dark Ages.
Self-Deprecation: "I look as sober as my grandfather... He was a stinkin' drunk."
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The Union engagement of the mob reveals the ultimate pointlessness of Bill and the Irish gangs' ancient code of ethnic vendettas and street combat, which has been rendered obsolete by the advent of the modern era.
There's still a stark difference between how the Five Points look compared to how clean and bright uptown New York looks.
Smug Snake: Happy Jack Mulraney is a totally loathsome little sod, who will quite complacently use his position as a policeman to beat up and extort bribes from the petty criminals of the Five Points, but is totally dominated by Bill.
Boss Tweed, too. He tries to be a Magnificent Bastard. In the latter half of the film, he stokes the flames of conflict between Bill Cutting and Amsterdam until the two are driven into a gang war which leaves all his rivals decimated. As a result, he is able to emerge as the uncontested master of New York politics until his downfall in 1871. However, a lot of his constituency is dead by the movie's end. "We're burying a lot of votes tonight..."
Sophisticated as Hell: Bill's speaking style: "From which part of that excrementitious isle were your forbears spawned?". Ironically, he couldn't never read too good.
Bill is also very worldly and stylish. When he kisses the hand of a young Schermerhorn lady, Bill smiles and comments on her perfume, "Mm, Orange Blossom, delicious."
And then goes on to deliver a Stealth Insult to the girl's father within her hearing; he calls her a peach and says she should have a fine career on the stage, which is apparently a compliment of her looks, but when you consider that actresses were for a long time equated with prostitutes...
Soundtrack Dissonance: The music during the battle between Priest Vallon and Bill Cutting's gangs is a fairly modern synth dance beat.
Also the music "Shimmy She Wobble" playing as the Rabbit's are readying for battle sounds like it may be an old Irish tune, but is really a fife and drum blues number from Mississippi recorded in the 1950's.
The Quisling: McGloin, who becomes one of Bill's closest collaborators, and Happy Jack, who sorts of becomes The Brute
Throw It In: A lot of Daniel Day-Lewis' best moments as Bill the Butcher weren't in the script but were ad-libbed, such as the part where he taps his glass eye with a knife, and when he says "Woopsy daisy!" after destroying Jenny's locket during his knife act.
Time Passes Montage: One of the most famous things about the film is the very end. Miramax had a lot of problems with it in the wake of 9-11, causing it to be delayed a whole year, sadly.
World Building: The recreation of the streets and slums of New York in the mid 19th century is quite impressive.
Worthy Opponent: Of all the men Bill has killed, he only remembers Amsterdam's father.
Bill: The Priest and me, we lived by the same principles. It was only faith divided us. He gave me this, you know. That was the finest beating I ever took. My face was pulp, my guts was pierced, and my ribs was all mashed up. And when he came to finish me, I couldn't look him in the eye. He spared me because he wanted me to live in shame. This was a great man. A great man. So I cut out the eye that looked away. Sent it to him wrapped in blue paper. I would have cut 'em both out if I could have fought him blind. Then I rose back up again with a full heart and buried him in his own blood.
Right after he kills Priest, Bill solemnly places a dagger on Priest's chest and whispers reverently, "You're gonna need this to cross the River", then lets his men know ears and noses of their victims will be the trophies of the day but Vallon will be untouched to cross over into the afterlife whole. His last moments with the dying man are kind of touching in their own way as well.
Emphasized when Amsterdam finally makes his move and Bill displays him for the crowd — he seems less angry about Amsterdam trying to kill him and more angry about Amsterdam playing as The Mole and trying to kill him sneakily, rather than facing him like a man as his father had.
Wretched Hive: Amsterdam refers to the Five Points as "the forge of Hell." Later he gets a guided tour of all the various criminal subcultures hanging out in Paradise Square.
Yellow Peril: The Chinese community is portrayed quite sympathetically, however in-story they're viewed this way by the white majority, and the costumes recall this to some degree. Complaints on historical accuracy claim that New York's Chinese population in those days was so miniscule as to be irrelevant to the time period or anyone's interest.