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.
It's 1846, and rival gangs are fighting over the Five Points district
. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson
) leads the "Dead Rabbits", the gang of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Bill
)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 (Leonardo DiCaprio
) 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:
- Action Girl: Jenny is more than capable of taking care of herself. Hell-cat Maggie might be this or Dark Action Girl.
- Heck, there are several unnamed female Dead Rabbits in the opening battle scene.
- Action Prologue: The fight between Bill's gang and the Dead Rabbits at the beginning.
- Adaptation Expansion: The book was a sociological study. It had no plot, and certainly no Amsterdam or Jenny.
- Affably Evil: Provided you're not an immigrant, Bill the Butcher seems like he'd be a pretty fun guy to hang around. Even if you are, he'll let you hang with him if you're useful enough. But don't ever enter his presence without some offering of tribute. You gotta pay for his company.
- Alas, Poor Scrappy: In-universe, after spending all the movie treating him like crap, Bill finally says something nice about Happy Jack to Boss Tweed when he finds his corpse strung on a lamp post.
Bill: I could spare ten of you much easier than I could spare him.
- 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.
- Truth in Television applied to the historical "Bill the Butcher", whose history the film otherwise takes liberties with. (One of his grievances was that Tammany was handing out most of the butchers' licenses to Irish.)
- 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.
- But surprisingly clean...
- Amusing Injuries: Running Gag with McGloin
- Anachronism Stew: While Scorsese definitely did the research, he noted that the film is intended to be more of an "operatic" myth than a documentary, as a result, he felt free to mix and match cooler-sounding elements of various historical accounts that didn't coexist in real life.
- Antagonist in Mourning: Literally. Bill keeps a shrine of Priest Vallon and celebrates his defeat respectfully and mournfully every year.
- Anti-Climax: The battle between Bill's nativists and Amsterdam's revived Dead Rabbits never happens because the supposed background story overtakes the main story. Contrary to cliche movie logic, the problems of two people really don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
- Anti-Hero: All the good guys unsurprisingly, even the ever-corrupt Boss Tweed has a brief moment of this.
- Amsterdam, the most decent character, is a Type III with (very) occasional bouts of Type IV in the middle of the film.
- Anti-Villain: Averted with Bill. His brutal actions, darkly comedic nature, and warped sense of honor only undermine his feeble Pet the Dog moments.
- Anyone Can Die: By the end of the movie Happy Jack, Johnny, Monk, Jimmy Spoils, McGloin, Shang, Hellcat Maggie and Bill are all dead.
- 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 around carrying a Celtic cross and wearing a priest collar to protect his name. 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)
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When you've got Leonardo DiCaprio in your film...
- 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.
- Becoming the Mask: See What You Are in the Dark.
- Berserk Button: After being shot in the shoulder by a Gaelic-speaking assassin, Bill goes ballistic. "You mother-whoring Irish nigger!....you see this knife! I'm gonna make you speak English with this fucking knife!"
- Later, when Bill is dealing with Amsterdam's betrayal, the latter spits blood in Bill's face. Bill goes absolutely livid and unleashes a barrage of headbutts before he continues.
- The Berserker/Unflinching Walk: Monk's style of combat during the first battle between Priest Vallon and Bill the Butcher. He walks around, ignoring any danger to himself, and just gets his clubs in.
- Big Applesauce
- Big Bad: Cutting.
- Big Lipped Alligator Moment: 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.
- The Big Rotten Apple: 19th century New York at its most squalid.
- 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 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 people in 1863 New York. Specifically, although there definitely were some at that point in time, there weren't enough to have their own community.
- Blatant Lies: Johnny tries to claim that he let Jenny steal his pocket watch when he and Amsterdam first meet her. Amsterdamn isn't fooled for a second.
- 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.
- Bond One-Liner: "That, my friends, is the minority vote."
- 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.
- The Butcher, Bill
- Butt Monkey: McGloin is this to Bill.
Bill: "Don't mind him, he used to be an Irishman."
- Mulraney is this even more so. When Mulraney escorts a group of aristocrats through the Points, Bill goes out of his way to undermine Mulraney's credibility and make him look like a total putz.
- Byronic Hero: Bill Cutting, if there ever was one.
- 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.
- Carry a Big Stick: Monk, whose weapon of choice is a shillelagh, with a notch for every person he's killed.
- Character Filibuster: Bill has a long one while talking to Amsterdam after their night at a brothel, discussing his life's story while draped in an American flag.
- Chewing the Scenery: Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher.
"What'll it be then? Rib or chop? loin or shank?!"
"I'll paint Paradise square with his blood. Two coats! I'll festoon my bedchamber with his guts."
- The City Narrows: The Five Points in Real Life!
- 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.
- Costume Porn: The upper class are only in it for twenty minutes, yet the lower class clothes and all their pretty colours are on full display for most of the time.
- Covered with Scars: Amsterdam has scars on his chest when revealed in a shirtless scene, which he got while in reform school. Bill the Butcher later gives him one on his cheek.
- Crapsack World: New York City of the 1860's is not a fun place, much less the Five Points.
- Cruel Mercy: Priest Vallon once beat Bill nearly to death and then spared him, intending him to live in shame. Bill later turns this around on Amsterdam after publicly humiliating and disfiguring him.
- Culture Clash: Particularly between "natives" and immigrants, mixed with racism, Urban Segregation, poverty
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : As Bill's protege, Amsterdam gets to wear fine clothes and gets invited to a cotillion.
- Darker and Edgier: Find any movie or tv show set in the 19th United States that's darker, and more unflinching in it's portrayal of the problems of the culture.
- Dastardly Whiplash: The moustachio-twirling, top-hatted Bill the Butcher could be Snidely Whiplash's uncle. His very, very scary uncle.
- Dead Star Walking: Priest Vallon, played by Liam Neeson, is dead before the ten minute mark.
- Death Equals Redemption: Amsterdam seems to forgive Johnny when he dies.
- Death of the Hypotenuse: Johnny in a case of death by Butcher.
- 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."
- The Dragon: "Happy Jack" Mulraney to Bill
- Dragon-in-Chief: Cutting to Boss Tweed.
- The Dreaded: Bill "The Butcher" Cutting actively cultivates this impression of him in everyone in order to maintain his power and even just to survive.
- Dual Wielding: When the rioters attack his manor, Schermerhorn attacks them with two pistols. It ends up being Awesome but Impractical as the rioters attack him before he can reload either gun.
- During the opening melee, Bill charges into the fray with a cleaver in one hand and a machete-sized butcher's knife in the other, using both to kill dozens of Dead Rabbits.
- Duel to the Death: Bill vs. Priest; later, Bill vs. Amsterdam.
- Dull Surprise: Amsterdam, for someone with a "murderous rage" in him, is pretty bland.
- 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.
- Escaped Animal Rampage: During the climax of Gangs of New York an elephant escapes the Barnum and Bailey circus during the Draft Riots, though the city is so overcome by chaos the elephant rampaging down the street is only another small part of the madness the city has descended into.
- 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.
- Glass Eye of Power : Bill's glass eye has an American Eagle instead of a pupil.
- End of an Age: Bill laments the death of the old ways, and the birth of the impersonal modern era. "Civilization is crumbling."
- Even Evil Has Standards: Bill absolutely despises liars, cheats, backstabbers and dishonourable behaviour in general.
- McGloin does not look kindly upon selling corpses for cash.
- 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
- Final Battle: Lampshaded.
- Floating Head Syndrome: With jumbled names to boot! I never knew that Cameron Diaz had such a cool moustache!
- 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. Even priests, missionaries, politicians and rich people are involved wit them.
- Even firefighter companies behave like gangs, fighting each other instead of putting out a fire.
- 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.
- Girl with Psycho Weapon: Hell-cat Maggie has Wolverine Claws.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Amsterdam's fight with McGloin. Justified as the usual way of resolving disputes between men that doesn't involve knives or guns.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Bill has a glass eye; later, he brands Amsterdam's face with a hot knife.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Bill caving in Monk's head with his own shillelagh.
- Groin Attack: Jenny uses this against Amsterdam. He doesn't go down for the count though.
- Hat of Authority: One can easily tell the person's standing in a gang by the size of their top hat. Bill "the Butcher" has the tallest stovepipe hat of all.
- Hidden Depths: It's strongly hinted Bill knows that his way of thinking is dying, and even accepts it. He simply refuses to live in the "modern world" that is coming.
- High Heel-Face Turn: Apparently sleeping with Amsterdam is all it takes to make Jenny turn against the man who cared for her and rescued her from a life of prostitution and misery.
- Various snips of dialog (such as her saying she's been secretly saving up money) imply she'd been looking for a way out for awhile now and merely needed an opportunity and excuse. Perhaps not entirely surprising given Bill's somewhat choleric temperament.
- Historical In-Joke: "Now that was bloody Shakespearean. Do you know who William Shakespeare was? He was the fellow who wrote the King James Bible."
- 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.
- Hollywood History: The bulk of the movie's set from 1862-1863 and rolls a decade's worth of history into that time period. Naturally, there are some relatively minor anachronisms. The Old Brewery closed in 1852, a decade before the film's depiction; John Schermerhorn died in 1851 of natural causes, rather than being murdered in the Draft Riots; Bill's shown backing a Know-Nothing candidate for Sheriff when that party no longer existed in 1863. As mentioned elsewhere on this page, Bill is loosely based on William Poole, who died eight years prior to the movie's events.
- 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.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jenny, though "the heart of gold" part is mainly later on.
- Hope Spot: Monk wins against a Nativist candidate for the position of sheriff in a
fair election, but Bill kills him anyway.
- Hypocrite: For all of Bill's talk about honor and traditional laws of combat, his primary method of attack is sneaking up behind his enemy to stab them.
- For that matter, for all his hatred of the Irish, he himself was of Irish descent.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Hell Gate Reformatory in the Bronx.
- I Kiss Your Hand: Bill the Butcher kisses the hand of an uptown girl visiting the sleazy Five Points, complimenting her perfume.
- I Work Alone: Said verbatim by Jenny when Amsterdam offers to team up with her in the rich district.
- Imperiled in Pregnancy: Jenny's baby was cut out of her after she got pregnant from Bill the Butcher, leaving a big nasty scar on her body and her traumatized.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Bill and throwing knives.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: Played for Laughs when an incredibly obvious transvestite (stubble and all) shows up to a dance where males are paired with females. He, of course, goes to the "female" side.
- 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 finishing him off with his own shillelagh.
- In the Name of the Moon: The street warriors all call out their gang names before battle.
- The Irish Mob: Depicted in their early days as a street-gang mostly concerned with protecting the Irish Catholic immigrant community from hostile Protestants.
- Irish Priest: Priest Vallon of course.
- 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.
- It May Help You on Your Quest: Monk gives Vallon his father's rusty shaving razor.
- Large Ham: Daniel Day-Lewis must have been enjoying himself.
"WHO IS THIS UNDER MY KNIFE?!?!"
"I'M GOING TO TEACH YOU TO SPEAK ENGLISH WITH THIS FUCKING KNIFE!!!!"
"IT'S ELECTION DAY!!!"
- McGloin does his share of scenery chewing.
"DIDJA KNOW THERE'S A NIGGER IN THE CHURCH?!
- Karmic Death: An entire Union flank turns it's attention to resident Jerk Ass, McGloin.
- Kick the Dog: Bill stabbing Monk In the Back with a butcher knife. Also his bloody head-beating of Amsterdam was probably going too far.
- Kill 'em All: And how.
- Kill the Poor: As tensions come closer to exploding, Schermerhorn casually states his belief that you can always hire half the poor to kill the other half.
- Knife Nut: Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Amsterdam trains himself to be an expert at throwing knives.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Bill stages an impropmtu one with Jenny as the target.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Monk. Not that he doesn't know better, the poor bastard.
- Meaningful Name: Amsterdam Vallon. New Amsterdam, of course, was the original name of New York. The irony doesn't escape Bill's notice.
- Last but certainly not least, is Bill "The Butcher" Cutting.
- Melting Pot: Lampshaded by Bill watching a black youth dancing on a table.
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 some extent with Priest Vallon at the start of the film when he tells his son not to look away.
- Minor Insult Meltdown: Bill the Butcher during the knife throwing act. "Whoopsie-daisy!"
- Mob War
- 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.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Johnny betrays Amsterdam when he realizes she has eyes for Amsterdam and not him.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: His last name is "Cutting." And everyone refers to him as "The Butcher."
- Nice Hat: Bill the Butcher sports a stylish top, as do a few of his associates.
- Ultra tall pimped-out stovepipe hats became associated with gangsterism after upper-class kids started imitating the foppish Bowery Boys and hanging out in Astor Place.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Twice by Bill.
- Noble Demon: Bill does live by a some code of honor, no matter how alien, and pets the dog approximately twice.
- No Doubt The Years Have Changed Me: Bill would never have recognized Amsterdam on his own.
- No Name Given: Bill is always accompanied by three nameless thugs who don't utter a single line between the three through the whole movie.
- Not So Different: Bill on the Priest.
Bill: The Priest and me, we lived by the same principles. It was only faith divided us.
- Amsterdam dismisses the rich families like the Schermerhorns and Greeleys in the north of Manhattan as "rich gang members".
- Amsterdam and Bill. Compare Bill's backstory and Amsterdam's arc post-beatdown.
- Not Worth Killing: Amsterdam gets off with a nasty scar, though. Foreshadowed by Bill's speech about the Priest doing the same thing to him. Jenny also qualifies during the Knife-Throwing Act.
- Officer O'Hara: Mulroney.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Played straight — Bill the Butcher and Vallon. Lampshaded when their climactic battle is rudely interrupted by a naval bombardment of the city. Bill discusses it on several occasions as being part of his "ancient laws of combat".
- 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.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: Priest Vallon's shaving razor. It turns out Monk went rifling through Vallon's effects to retrieve it for the orphaned Vallon years later.
- Parental Substitute: Bill to Amsterdam for a short while.
- Percussive Pickpocket: Jenny does this to Amsterdam when they meet.
- Pet the Dog: "She ain't really my mother."
- To a lesser degree, Bill also 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, "I'll miss you, Arthur. See you in the Hot Country, shamus." Keep in mind too that Bill is a Nativist who is giving a traditional Irish benediction.
- Police Are Useless: Though not for the expected reasons.
- Politically Correct History: Averted. Amsterdam's gang includes a black member, who is taunted, scorned, and ultimately lynched.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Of course, it is the 1860's, but still.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall cronies are appalled by Bill's actions, only because it's bad for their appearances.
- 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.
- Likewise, Mr. Schermerhorn and Mr. Greeley
- Public Domain Soundtrack: A few period songs, such as "Paddy's Lamentation".
- The Quisling: Mulraney and McGloin have thrown their lot in with the natives after the end of the Dead Rabbits. It comes back to bite them both later.
- 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.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Priest Vallon, most of all. Bill is devout in his own way, and Amsterdam's rise to badassery is coupled with his reconnecting with his Catholic roots. Immediately before the final confrontation, we see Bill and Amsterdam praying.
- Reminiscing About Your Victims: Bill is always fond of remembering Priest Vallon.
- The Resenter: Johnny. It doesn't end well.
- Reset Button Ending (sort of):
"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.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Draft Riots
- Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The climactic gang fight is interrupted by the U.S. Navy bombarding New York with cannon fire.
- Scenery Gorn
- 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.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: More like Kick Scramble Sex for Jenny and Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Vallon: Is there anyone in the Five Points you haven't fucked?!
Jenny Everdeane: Yes! YOU!
- Sleazy Politician: Boss Tweed, natch.
Tweed: The appearance of the law must be upheld... especially when it is being broken.
- Sleep With One Eye Open: And Bill's only got one eye, which is why he says he never sleeps much.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Like Oliver! 's cleaned-up version of Victorian England, Scorsese's 1864 is surprisingly bright (the real New York of the 1860's, particularly the lowly Five Points district, would have had far more manure on the streets and pigs running around). Although there's a good deal of gritty in the characters.
- 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..."
- So Proud of You: Bill on Amsterdam in the weirdest ways. Their relationship is... complicated. See Doesn't Like Guns for one example.
- Society Marches On: Of course. But Bill wouldn't recognize the Five Points as it is now◊, in the financial and government center of Manhattan.
- 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 "The" Title Confusion
- 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.
- Torches and Pitchforks: The New York Draft Riots are initially a protest over the Union drafts, but quickly devolves into a deadly lynch mob.
- Trash the Set: Gangs Of New York did this for the Draft Riot scene, which was a pity if you think about it, they don't often make such detailed and elaborate sets for movies these days.
- Truth in Television:The fight between the two groups of firefighters. Fights like that were one of the reasons why city run fire departments (such as FDNY) had all but replaced the system of multiple volunteer units by the turn of the century. Its wasn't uncommon for units to A. try to snag fires outside their designated area and B. sabotage if not outright attack other departments operating at the scene.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Bill the Butcher was a real person and the New York Draft Riots actually did happen. Unfortunately the real Bill the Butcher died in a shooting eight years before the Draft Riots took place. Frighteningly enough, Hellcat Maggie was a real person too.
- The real Bill was also much less dangerous than his fictional counterpart: he apparently never killed anyone.
- Much of the film's dialogue is taken from contemporary accounts of the Draft Riots, albeit out of context.
- Tweed, Schermerhorn, Greeyley and P.T. Barnum are historical characters-
- Violent Glaswegian: Sub in an Irishman for a Scotsman and the trope is played totally straight.
- Vote Early, Vote Often: Monk might very well have won the election fair and square but Boss Tweed made sure he had several times more votes than there were voters.
Amsterdam: Twice? You only voted twice? You call that civic duty?!
- What You Are in the Dark: Amsterdam fears that he may have saved Bill out of genuine affection for the killer of his father.
Bill: He was the only man I killed worth remembering... I never had a son. Civilization is crumbling.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: "You should have shaved closer this morning."
- 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.
- You Killed My Father/ Not in This for Your Revolution: This is Amsterdam's motivation for stalking Bill when he first arrives in New York, but as time goes on his crusade becomes more and more bound up with the plight of the Irish immigrants.
- You Will Be Spared: "God's only man spared by the Butcher!"