Follow TV Tropes


Film / Gangs of New York

Go To

"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 historical crime-drama 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 "The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) 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 American 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 Scorsese 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.
  • Achievement In Ignorance: Monk is aghast and surprised at Amsterdam rising so high in Bill's confidence without knowing what he's really doing.
    Monk: If you're not strong, you'd better be smart. Now I don't know if you're being too clever or too dumb, but whichever it is just remember this much. For all his faults, your father was a man who loved his people.
  • 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. To be fair, the book was also sensationalizing and half of the stories were either exaggerated or flat out fiction.
  • 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 half a dozen of you 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.
  • 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. The bulk of the movie's set from 1862-1863 and rolls a decade's worth of history into that time period.
    • The huge battle sequence "to decide for good and all who holds sway over the five points" that opens the film is fictional. It seems loosely inspired by the Dead Rabbits Riot (which was likewise a huge battle between Natives and Dead Rabbits which the Natives won and assured their control), but that took place in 1857, while the opening of the film explicitly takes place in 1846.
    • 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 the Butcher is loosely based on William Poole, a real-life Five Points gang leader and nativist political organizer in antebellum New York. While the movie's Bill does utilize some of Poole's background and personality, it turns his violent tendencies up to eleven (Poole was an ex-boxer known for a Hair-Trigger Temper, but there's little evidence beyond rumor that he ever personally killed anyone). Further, Poole died eight years prior to the movie's events under markedly different circumstances (he was murdered in a bar by a political rival rather than dying in a street brawl).
    • Boss Tweed didn't have any sort of power until 1863, where he had himself appointed as Sheriff (sorry, Monk!) and started extortion to increase his income. It wasn't till after the Civil War that Tweed and the Tammany machine truly started humming.
    • The nativist movement was already in decline by 1856, when the "Know-Nothings" split over slavery. The scene of the Irish under Bishop Hughes facing down the nativists actually is drawn from the anti-Catholic riots of 1844, when Hughes threatened to "turn New York into Moscow" if any churches there were attacked. Similarly, in the election scene Bill supports a Know-Nothing candidate for Sheriff in 1863, well after the Know-Nothing/American Party had ceased to exist.
    • It's also unlikely that Bill and Tweed, even if their historical counterparts had known each other, would have forged any kind of political alliance considering one was a Know-Nothing and the other a Tammany Democrat - in other words, bitter enemies.
  • 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 is effectively canceled with the U.S. military starts shelling the city.
  • Anti-Hero: Amsterdam is a hoodlum out for revenge, but he's a decent person at heart.
  • Anti-Villain: Amsterdam has a period of flirting with Becoming the Mask when masquerading as Bill's protege.
  • 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 hydratingnote , sodomy, strangulation and enthusiastic corruption of the public good.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • The Empire State Building shouldn't be visible in the final shot from the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
    • The actual Five Points cross-streets included Anthony, not Worth. The name was changed from Anthony to Worth after the Civil War.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • The New York City Draft Riot scene takes a few liberties with the events that actually transpired. The film exaggerates the extent of the riot and the sort of events that took place.
    • It is not known whether or not the US Navy actually fired artillery on Paradise Square, but it's probable that it didn't actually happen, though some historical evidence suggests artillery was used, albeit on land.
  • 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.
  • Avenging the Villain: A very minor one, but after the Army shows up to start executing rioters, Dead Rabbit Shang charges a firing squad in a rage after seeing them fill Nativist McGloin with about a dozen rounds of lead. He's presumably clubbed to death by the soldiers with their rifles.
  • 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 cassock at the beginning of the movie. It stands out against the white snow on the ground.
  • Badass Preacher: Invoked with "Priest" Vallon who is not an actual priest or clergyman but still goes around carrying a Celtic cross and wearing an iron collar that resembles a priest's collar to protect his neck. 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)
  • Bawdy Song: "New York Girls" is sung in the saloon.
  • 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 (DiCaprio) in disgust... only to see that DiCaprio looks as handsome as ever with only the slightest cut on his cheek.
    • 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.
  • 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: From the mid 19th century, so a lot of it looks like a farming community than an actual city.
  • Big Bad: Bill the Butcher is our primary antagonist
  • The Big Rotten Apple: 19th century New York at its most squalid.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The film contains lots of unsubtitled Irish in the background dialogue.
  • 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 many on 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: A substantial number of Chinese people in 1863 New York. While there definitely were some at that point in time, there weren't enough to have their own community. Censuses shows that by 1870, there were still only about 200 Chinese people in New York.
  • Blatant Lies: Johnny tries to claim that he let Jenny steal his pocket watch when he and Amsterdam first meet her. Amsterdam 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.
  • Book Dumb: Bill is fantastically well-spoken and eloquent, but one scene where he struggles to read a pamphlet suggests that he is only semi-literate.
  • 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.
    • There's also a character-specific Book Ends with Bill the Butcher. He's introduced with a extreme close-up shot of his eagle-adorned glass eye. His last shot in the film is another extreme-close up of the glass eye, but this time shutting closed for the final time.
  • Boomerang Bigot: The Irish-Catholic McGloin, who joins up with the Protestant "Natives" 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 is literally a butcher by trade as well as a Psycho Knife Nut gang leader.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • McGloin is this to Bill, who says, "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 character asks Amsterdam and his friends if they take exception to being called "fidlam bens," someone who resorts to stealing pathetic stuff because he can't steal good stuff. He replies that he might if he knew what it meant. He reverses it by saying if McGloin called him a "chiseler" — someone who rips off his partners in crime — he would be offended. McGloin seems to never heard of the term before, but says Sure, Let's Go with That to provoke Amsterdam.
  • The Cameo: Director Scorsese is the head of an upper-class household that Jennie robs while pretending to be a housemaid. He also voices one of the telegraphers during the draft riot scene. He is the voice that says "Find the military and send them..." and "18: The mob is very wild".
  • 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.
  • The Cavalry: Technically, the infantry, but once the riot breaks out, there's a montage of violent scenes and telegraph reports about how the police are totally unable to contain the riot, the rioters have taken control of the city, all the police have been put out of action or are unaccounted for, there's no hope, and then, suddenly, "From 16th, the 7th regiment has arrived, foot of Canal Street. They are on their way to Broadway." There's still a lot of fighting before the mob is put down, but you know the tide has turned.
  • 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!
  • Clique Tour: The film has Amsterdam Vallon return after a fifteen-year exile to the neighborhood called Little Five Points. His old friend Johnny acquaints him with the factions that control it now, including the Natives that slew Amsterdam's father; the Tonies, a mostly Italian band destined to become The Mafia; the Gussies, mostly hookers and pimps; and a brief glance at perhaps the most famous of the gangs, the Bowery Boys, complete with their iconic stovepipe hats. While the gangs aren't at each others throats, they are fiercely territorial and viciously vindictive.
  • 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. Partly Truth in Television, only in real life it was just a stripe on their pants.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bill might be big on honour and the sanctity of the battlefield, but he's not above fighting dirty.
  • Composite Character: Given the film's cocktail "myth" of historical events, a lot of characters blend more than one figure. Bill the Butcher for example is primarily based on Bill "The Butcher" Poole, but his role as undisputed king of the five points acting as the mayor's enforcer resembles moreso Captain Isaiah Rynders. Hellcat Maggie was a real figure with sharp nails and teeth, but the specific habit of biting off people's ears in a bar comes from a character called Gallus Maggie.
  • Conflict Killer: The B-Plot of the build-up to the New York Draft Riots erupts with full force in the final act and the Final Battle that the A-Plot was building up to never happens because it's interrupted by the Union military blowing everything up with an artillery barrage and then sending in soldiers with orders to Take No Prisoners. Amsterdam manages to kill Bill, but it's a Mercy Kill that leaves him even more bitter in the aftermath.
  • Costume Porn: The upper class are only in it for twenty minutes, yet the lower class clothes and all their pretty colors 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, and poverty.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Angry rioters and gangsters armed with whatever was lying around against trained infantry with rifles backed by artillery? The army takes at most one onscreen casualty vs. the dozens if not hundreds of people buried in unmarked graves.
  • 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 its 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 Animal Warning: Subverted. When Amsterdam hangs a dead rabbit on a fence in Paradise Square, it's the symbol of his father's old gang, the Dead Rabbits, and both a call to arms for the immigrant community and a message to Bill the Butcher that he's not going to give up.
  • 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.
  • Dead Guy on Display: The fate of 'Happy' Jack Mulraney
  • 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 Bill suggests pistols, Amsterdam immediately refuses, to which Bill replies "Good boy." Then the Union infantry spoil everything with their rifles and artillery.
  • Draft Dodging: Rich people could pay their way out of being drafted (often by paying someone else to become a soldier in their stead). The poor could not. The Draft Riots occurred because they could not take that anymore, and made it clear by trashing everything they could before being gunned down by the Army.
  • 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.
    Bill: I'm 47. 47 years old. Know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me: I cut off his hands. He offends me: I cut out his tongue. He rises against me: I cut off his head, stick it on a pike. Raise it high up so all in the streets can see. That's what preserves the order of things. Fear.
    • To a slightly lesser extent are his gang, The Confederation of American Natives, who ritually torment, bully, and downright assault newly arriving immigrants, blacks, or anyone else who doesn't pay them the proper tribute. They're so dangerous that they managed to keep a rule over all of New York City that dictated no one would speak of the "Dead Rabbits" under penalty of execution by their hands.
    • "Happy" Jack demonstrates his power over the Five Points in one scene to a bunch of friends of Boss Tweed that came to gawk at the unwashed masses of the district by hanging his gold pocket watch from a light pole where anybody could snatch it (and considering that it's the Five Points, it's more of a "will") and walks off without a care. When a girl in the group asks if he's afraid of someone taking the watch, Jack says that he doesn't because everybody in the Five Points knows that it's his watch and also what he'll do to whoever takes it.
  • 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.note 
    • 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. Opposite him, Priest Vallon wields a sword in one hand and a Celtic cross-shaped mace in the other.
  • 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. Maybe there's just no more heat to his anger?
  • End of an Age: The gangs live by a rough code of personal bravery and hand-to-hand violence that is decisively swept away at the end of the Draft Riots by the disciplined riflework and long-distance cannon of the military, symbolizing the transition from tribal loyalties to centralized, standardized law. Bill himself appears aware that his way of life is passing away, as shown in a conversation with Tweed:
    Bill: My father gave his life making this country what it is. Murdered by the British with all his men on July 25, 1814. You think I'm going to help you befoul his legacy by giving this country to them who's had no hand in the fighting for it? Why? Because they come off a boat crawling with lice and begging you for soup?
    Tweed: You're a great one for the fighting, Bill, I know. But you can't fight forever.
    Bill: I can go down doing it.
    Tweed: And you will.
    Bill: (menacingly) What did you say?
    Tweed: I said you're turning your back on the future.
    Bill: Not our future.
  • Enemy Mine: Nativists and Dead Rabbits can be seen fighting together when the Army attacks New York. 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.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Some have interpreted Bill's "fear" speech to Amsterdam as his way of telling Amsterdam he knew who he was - specifically, he points out Amsterdam's "murderous rage" when he is insulted, then brings up Priest (and reminding his son of his death) despite there being not much of a reason to do so. He also calls the assassin who tried to sneak attack him earlier a "coward", which some have interpreted as Bill's warning to Amsterdam to not try a similar tactic if he does take revenge on him. Unfortunately, Amsterdam seems to have missed the message.
    • While Bill has a dramatic entrance earlier in the film, the exchange between Tweed and Bill shows more about both characters than any of Bill's ranting or Tweed's grandstanding.
    Tweed: Can't get a days work done for all the good citizens coming here harrassing me about crime in the Points. Some even go so far to accuse Tammany of connivance in this so called rampant criminality. What can I do? I can't have this. Something has to be done.
    Bill: (knowing exactly what Tammany has in mind, bored) What do you have in mind?
    Tweed: I don't know. Maybe we should hang someone.
    Bill: (bored) Who?
    Tweed: No one important necessarily. Back alley thieves, with no affiliations.
    Bill: (bored) How many?
    Tweed: Three or four.
    Bill: ("get on with it" tone) Which?
    Tweed: (casually) Four.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Despite being shown as an utterly deplorable bigot, McGloin deeply cares about his deceased mother, being seen making a prayer for her to rest in peace before he was forced out of the church.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Bill absolutely despises liars, cheats, backstabbers and dishonorable behavior in general. Hypocritically, he has committed all the behaviors he despises.
    • McGloin does not look kindly upon selling corpses for cash due to his religious scruples and is thoroughly disgusted Amsterdam immediately sold off a dead man who his gang killed in a botched heist.
    • Happy Jack seems very conflicted when Bill orders him to go after the resurrected Dead Rabbits (his old gang), to the point Bill has to brownbeat him into it.
    • Bill is genuinely sad at Happy Jack being hung and displayed for all to see. While Tammany just views it as a middle finger to authority (read as: his), Bill just says he could afford ten Tammanys to one Happy Jack.
  • 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.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Bill's glass eye has an American Eagle instead of a pupil.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Both Amsterdam's father and Bill serenely accept their defeats, even honored to be killed by a Worthy Opponent.
  • Father to His Men: Monk scolds Amsterdam that whatever the Priest's faults, he always loved his people.
  • Femme Fatalons: Hellcat Maggie not only sharpens wears sharpened claws but also files her teeth down to sharp points as well. This is not an invention of the film, by the way, though she is a composite character.
  • Fighting Irish: Irish immigrants are more than ready to fight the nativists for their slice of the pie.
  • Final Battle: Lampshaded and subverted. Just as Bill and Amsterdam are finally about to throw down, suddenly loud thunder sounds off in the distance as everyone stands around trying to figure out what that noise was, followed by explosions. Then the army comes in and starts massacring everyone.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The movie's poster, with jumbled names to boot. Who knew that Cameron Diaz had such a cool mustache?
  • Foe Cooties: "I'm not interested in The Butcher's leavings."
  • Foreshadowing: Subtle, but when Bill is explaining his love of butchering pigs because they are the closest to human, he mentions after cutting the midsection "this is a wound, the stomach will bleed and bleed" guess how Bill eventually ends up?.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When a young Johnny first approaches Amsterdam before the '46 battle, he curiously fingers the latter's medallion before having his hand slapped away. It's quick and casual enough to escape notice, but explains Johnny's ability to recognize Amsterdam by it, thus gaining him a vital friend and ally.
  • Freudian Excuse: Bill attributes his xenophobia to losing his father in the War of 1812 and believes in getting rid of anyone who he thinks dishonors his nation by not fighting, serving with distinction, or dying for it like his father did.
  • 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 with them. Even firefighter companies behave like gangs, fighting each other instead of putting out a fire and leaving the fire unattended to sack a house that ISN'T on fire.
  • Gang of Hats: Every prominent gang has a dress code, often including hats. Bill's Bowery Boys for example have top hats and blue ribbons on their clothes while the Dead Rabbits adorn themselves with dead rabbits and have red strands on their clothes.
  • Genre-Busting: Screenwriter Jay Cocks described the film as a "Western from Mars", it's a re-imagining 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: Jenny sleeps with Amsterdam and sides with him against Bill, who had previously 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 a while now.
  • Historical Domain Character: Boss Tweed, P.T. Barnum, John Schermerhorn, Horace Greeley and, believe it or not, Hellcat Maggie.
  • 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.
  • 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 seize 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.
    • Bill likes to refer to himself as a "Native American," but as a white man, he's obviously a descendant of immigrants at some point in his lineage.
  • Idiot Ball: Monk was carrying it when he turned his back on Bill the Butcher while the latter was clearly in a killing mood.
  • 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.
  • Instant Sedation: Jenny uses chloroform to put Amsterdam to sleep so she can treat his wounds. He goes from screaming in agony to unconscious in three seconds.
  • 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, although he's not actually ordained.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The ending confrontation between Amsterdam and Bill's gangs is played like a repeat of the battle between the Confederation of American Natives and the Dead Rabbits at the beginning. Except the second time, the battle doesn't even get started before the US Navy, mistaking them for mobs participating in the Draft Riots, decides to intervene by shelling them.
  • It May Help You on Your Quest: Monk gives Vallon his father's rusty shaving razor.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness: Henry sees Amsterdam make out with Jenny, a woman he was interested in but who turned him down earlier in the film. He outs his identity to Bill Cutting out of jealousy.
  • Large Ham: Daniel Day-Lewis must have been enjoying himself.
    • McGloin does his share of scenery chewing.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: An extremely badass and foreboding one opens the film, set to the frantic wailing pipes of "Shimmy She Wobble" by Otha Turner's Fife and Drum Band.
  • Karmic Death: An entire Union flank turns it's attention to resident Jerkass, McGloin.
  • Kick the Dog: Bill hurling a meat cleaver In the Back of Monk Also his bloody head-beating of Amsterdam was probably going too far.
  • 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-Throwing Act: Bill stages an impromptu one with Jenny as the target.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Monk. Not that he doesn't know better, the poor bastard.
  • Leave No Survivors: To a small degree. The Army commander notes the rioters aren't taking any hostages, so neither are they. It's treated as a Godzilla Threshold and they're not trying to kill. They just don't care if anyone gets killed, just so they're stopped.
  • Left the Background Music On: While McGloin and Amsterdam fight, a man plays battle music on his autoharp. He stops playing when the fight is over.
  • Manly Tears: Amsterdam sobs when he realizes he's starting to love Bill, being "under the wing of a dragon."
  • Meaningful Name: Amsterdam Vallon. New Amsterdam, of course, was the original name of New York. The irony doesn't escape Bill's notice.
    Bill: Amsterdam? I'm New York.
    • Last but certainly not least, is Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Meaningful on multiple levels; while Bill is, indeed, a murderer, he is also a literal butcher. Both lines of work feature a lot of cutting. It's highlighted when Bill shows Amsterdam his knowledge as a butcher on where to cut a man in a fight.
      Bill: You get to know a lot butchering meat. We're made up of the same things - flesh and blood, tissue, organs. I love to work with pigs. The nearest thing in nature to the flesh of a man is the flesh of a pig... This is the liver. The kidneys. The heart. This is a wound — the stomach will bleed and bleed. This is a kill. This is a kill. Main artery. This is a kill.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Johnny.
    • Arguably, Amsterdam's killing of Bill could also be seen this way by the latter, since it comes after his Mortal Wound Reveal, and at a moment when it's certain that his vision of what America should be is irretrievably lost (see End of an Age and Hidden Depths above).
  • Minor Insult Meltdown: Bill the Butcher during the knife throwing act. "Whoopsie-daisy!"
  • Mob War: The Dead Rabbits (and later resurrected Dead Rabbits) vs. Bill's Nativists are a pretty hard-core, tribal version of this. Unusual for representations of this kind of conflict in film, it ends with the authorities barging in and massacring (almost) everybody.
  • Mood Swing: A subtle but effective one occurs right during the opening sequence, when young Amsterdam witnesses the Battle of the Points. We see the Priest gathering his "congregation" while rousing folk music plays, they meet the Butcher and his "Natives" in Paradise Square, rousing speeches are held, insults are exchanged and the battle ensues while a brooding instrumental rendition of Peter Gabriel's "Signal to Noise" plays. At first we get a rather generic battle sequence with a fair bit of Bloodless Carnage, Bill the Butcher seemingly effortlessly cutting through his adversaries, people flying, crashing through windows etc. This however lasts only right until the middle of the sequence, when the song switches to its heavier electronic part and we see ears getting bitten off, people running around with gaping wounds, legs getting cut off and gallons of blood everywhere, culminating in the Butcher brutally stabbing the Priest.
  • 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 Jenny has eyes for Amsterdam and not him.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Monk seems to have this attitude towards the Irish in America, telling Amsterdam that his first impulse is to tear at him and destruct the world, which is why he didn't like to run with the Dead Rabbits or Priest Vallon unless they paid him.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Bill's last name is "Cutting." And everyone refers to him as "The Butcher."
  • Never Learned to Read: An odd case with Bill. He's functionally illiterate, but he also has a large vocabulary and is prone to Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Twice by Bill. Twice he had a chance to kill Amsterdam before he was a bigger nuisance, knowing perfectly well that he would be incensed by the murder of his father. Twice he does not. And in the end, he really didn't get to die fighting like he wanted to, but that wasn't Amsterdam's fault.
  • Noble Demon: Bill does live by 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" Remark: Bill on the Priest. Monk corroborates this by referring to the Priest as a "thick, ignorant, barbarous Irish whelp" just like Amsterdam would soon be.
    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. Heck, when Bill is watching Monk's funeral procession, he's not there to intimidate anyone or mock the procession. He's waiting for Amsterdam, and he gets exactly what he expected/hoped: Amsterdam to tell him "Challenge". Bill smiles genuinely and replies warmly "Challenge accepted." He's pleased that Amsterdam is learning "the laws of ancient combat".
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: In-Universe, Bill is downright proud Amsterdam and his gang made the front pages, even though the articles were of disgust over selling a nightwatchman's body to a back alley anatomist.
    Bill: Now this is a headline to be proud of!
  • 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.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Bill will never let McGloin forget he was "fish hooked by a scrat."
  • 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 actor 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.
  • "Open!" Says Me: After Monk agrees to Priest's payment, the former kicks open the door to reveal the snowy battlefield.
  • 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. Even after their schism, when Bill dies, he holds on to Amsterdam's hand tightly, and refuses to let go even in death.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The actions of the army are depicted in this way when their general orders them to take no prisoners. Part of the reason is that the regiment depicted in Real Life had just been fighting in the War and were exhausted:
    Prisoners? Don't take any. The mob isn't taking prisoners.
  • Percussive Pickpocket: Jenny is introduced stumbling into Johnny, who needs an amused Amsterdam to point out he's now short a watch. She's good enough Amsterdam also falls prey to it shortly after despite being completely on guard for the trick. (In fact, when they collide, they both check themselves for missing items.)
  • 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.
    • Bill is genuinely saddened by Happy Jack's death, muttering to Boss Tweed that he could more spare ten of him than he could of Jack.
    • Bill choosing to take in an impoverished 12 year old Jenny who was living in a doorway after her mother died. Even if he did have sex with her which led to a Caesarian scar after the birth and death of her baby, she insisted Bill never laid a hand on her until she asked him to.
  • Police Are Useless: Though not for the expected reasons. Many of them are bought are bought off by Boss Tweed to look the other way when it comes to crimes, while the Metropolitan police is too busy with gang violence.
  • 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.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Bill and Vallon both give one of these before the rumble between the natives and the Irish immigrants starts.
    Bill: Then may the Christian Lord guide my hand against your Roman popery
    Vallon: (drawing his sword) Prepare to receive the true Lord! (the two sides cheer and charge each other)
  • 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..."
  • The Promised Land: America is a portrayed as a hard Cynical type II of the Crappy at best and No Promised Land at worse. Irish immigrants escaping poverty, famine, and disease come to America only to be relentlessly brutalized and forced into job discrimination and poor shanty towns where they are attacked by gangs like the Natives who strongly hate foreigners and want Occupiers Out of Our Country or corrupt politicians who force them to enlist in the Army for benefits only to die in war. Lampshaded as the song "Paddy's Lamentation" plays as new Irish immigrants come to port while others are shipped off in coffins.
  • Properly Paranoid: Bill sleeps with one eye open - and he's only got one eye, which is why he says he never sleeps much.
  • 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. McGloin may be a Native, but he's still a Catholic and refuses to give that up, hence the reason he prays in the (Catholic) church, a Dead Rabbit haven.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • The fight scenes contain no ramping, slow motion or elaborate choreography and look brutal and bloody. People are punched, stabbed and hacked down, falling over realistically, in probably one of the most accurate depictions of a massive brawl in recent cinema. This may make the fights look ridiculous or overly crude and disgusting compared to the fight choreography and special effects in contemporary films.
    • Hell-Cat Maggie may seem like a ridiculous caricature, 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Monk drives home the fact to Amsterdam that he's nothing like his father because at least his father fought for a reason: Irish rights.
    Monk: That's it, that's it! Tear my head off and destruct the world! Just like the rest of the stupid Irish in this country! That's why I never ran with your dad!
    Amsterdam: Get off me you crazy bastard!
    Monk: (whispers something in Gaelic) It means, "If you're not strong you'd better be smart". Now I don't know if you're being too clever or too dumb, but whichever it is just remember this much. For all his faults, your father was a man who loved his people.
  • 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 mightily 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 know we're in New York 1846, after the introduction that seemed to have been lifted from the Dark Ages.
  • Revenge: Amsterdam wants to kill Bill for killing his father.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Draft Riots, especially when they start attacking people in rich clothes and lynching black people.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves:
    • Johnny betrays Amsterdam out of jealousy and reveals his plans and true identity to the Butcher. Some time later, after Johnny is expelled from newly revived Dead Rabbits gang, Bill repays him by having him impaled on an iron fence to die a slow, agonizing death.
    • Happy Jack, a former Dead Rabbit, is murdered and hung for all to see by Amsterdam and his gang.
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The climactic gang fight is interrupted by the U.S. Navy bombarding New York with cannon fire.
  • Rule of Symbolism: McGloin's death at the hands of the Union Army - he was both a Dead Rabbit and a Nativist.
  • Scenery Gorn: New York, the Five Points especially, circa the American Civil War ain't exactly all that pretty. Some would argue that the naval bombing at the end of the film actually improved the property value.
  • Secret Test of Character: Bill suggests pistols to Amsterdam for the Final Battle, prompting Amsterdam to refuse them. Bill approves.
  • Self-Deprecation: "It's got me lookin as sober as me own grandfather... a total drunken bastard."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 way, as he approves of him growing up to be Worthy Opponent. Specificaly he appoves when Amsterdam agrees to no guns during the gang duel.
  • 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 he 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.
    • From the first crack of line infantry rifle muskets firing on the mob, a rather melancholy yet upbeat drum and fife tune starts playing, even as the scene depicts the shock, surprise, terrifying confusion and brutal, bloody carnage of the Army firing on a mob made up of it's own citizens. All amidst screams of terror and pain, rapid camera angles and shocked/terrified faces, and bodies falling by the dozens full of bloody holes. Somehow, it fits perfectly.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To The Age of Innocence, the other Old New York Scorsese-Daniel Day-Lewis movie, which is set 10 years later.
  • Stab the Picture: On his way to a meeting with Boss Tweed, Bill the Butcher and his gang run into a parade celebrating the Emancipation Proclaimation. Bill (a virulent racist) responds by throwing a knife into a poster depicting President Lincoln, hitting him between the eyes. In a case of wonderful irony, years later Bill's actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) would play Lincoln himself.
  • Sword Cane: Priest Vallon has a sword cross.
  • Take No Prisoners: The U.S. Army soldiers deployed to deal with the Riots have this exact order — they become The Plot Reaper as the result.
    Telegraphist: Sir, the major general wants to know what to do with the prisoners captured.
    General: Prisoners? Don't take any. The mob isn't taking any prisoners! Put the mob down! Don't take a prisoner till you've put the mob down!
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: All over the place, but particularly during the Draft Riots sequence.
    • All black people lynched by the mob are killed in horribly cruel way. However, a special mention goes to a poor guy who gets beaten nearly to death, then stabbed in the chest, then hanged on a lamp post, and then set on fire. And even then, some crazed rioters keep beating his dead, hanging and burning body!
    • McGloin charges head-on at a squad of U.S. Army riflemen. He gets literally shredded by bullets when all soldiers fire at him. The officer shoots him one more time in the head with his pistol when McGloin lies dead or dying on the ground, which counts as a Mercy Kill.
    • Shortly after the above, Shang furiously attacks the same squad of soldiers in retaliation. He gets knocked to the ground, and then kicked and pummeled to death for his trouble. Even after he's dead already, the troopers keep beating his body with stocks of their rifles.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: It's Gangs of New York, not The Gangs of New York
  • 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.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Amsterdam hides two away before being dragged off to an orphanage, and his first priority upon his return is to retrieve them:
  • 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. It 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. The reason was that the first volunteer department at the scene would get paid a larger amount than subsequent crews. In fact, hiding a plug under a barrel was commonplace for "early responders", who would sit on it until his crew arrived; they became known as "plug uglies". This obvious recipe for corruption soon led to significant reforms in insurance laws (and abolition of the bounty payments), as well as independent volunteer companies giving way to modern professional and sworn volunteer fire departments. The New York City Fire Department was established following the Draft Riots of 1864.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Plot "A" is the whole bunch of Hamlet-esque shenanigans involving Amsterdam Vallon and William Cutting, and the path to them getting in a climactic gang fight for the power of the Five Points and revenge. Plot "B" are the increasing societal disturbances involving the Civil War, Union Army drafting, and the haves stepping on the have-nots. The climax is Plot "B" erupting in the Draft Riots and devastating a good chunk of New York while the gangs go to war finally... and the "B" Plot pretty much overtakes the "A" Plot because the Army starts massacring people to try to placate the riot, including the aforementioned gangs. Amsterdam manages to get his revenge, but it is by giving Bill a Mercy Kill, which leaves him feeling pretty empty.
  • Vengeance Denied: Because of the U.S. Army's explosive role as a Conflict Killer thanks to the B-Plot of the New York Draft Riots, Amsterdam Vallon's desire to avenge his father in a climactic no-holds-barred gang fight against Bill "The Butcher" Cutting instead becomes having to give Bill a Mercy Kill when he ends up fatally wounded by random artillery shrapnel. The epilogue makes it clear that Amsterdam will lament this Anti-Climax for what may be the rest of his life.
  • Verbal Salt in the Wound: Johnny and Jimmy surprise Amsterdam while he's retrieving his father's possessions from the tunnels, resulting in a confrontation in which Jimmy gets sucker-punched in the nose. The two later meet again when the rest of Johnny's gang convene to welcome Amsterdam into their ranks; Amsterdam eyes Jimmy and snidely asks "how's the beak?"
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Bill the Butcher was a real person. The real Bill was also much less dangerous than his fictional counterpart: he apparently never killed anyone. He also died in a shooting eight years before the Draft Riots took place.
    • The New York Draft Riots actually did happen.
    • Frighteningly enough, Hellcat Maggie was a real person too.
    • Much of the film's dialogue is taken from contemporary accounts of the Draft Riots, albeit out of context.
    • Tweed, Schermerhorn, Greeley and P.T. Barnum are historical characters.
  • 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?!
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Averted. At first, Amsterdam does welcome Johnny into the ranks of revived Dead Rabbits gang. However, when he learns of his betrayal, he threatens to kill him, before settling for telling him to get out of his sight and never come back. This leads to Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves moment.
  • 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."
  • Worldbuilding: 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. (reverently) This was a great man. A great man. (continues) 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.
  • Wrong Insult Offence: McGloin at one point, looking to pick a fight with Amsterdam, calls him a "fidlam bens" (a thief who steals worthless crap because he doesn't have the skills or guts to go after worthwhile loot). Amsterdam just shrugs and says that, given that the entire haul from his last heist was the corpse of a dead nightwatchman he sold to the local medical school, he really can't argue with the description. However, if McGloin had called him a "chiseler" (a thief who screws his partners out of their cut of the loot) he might feel insulted enough to fight. McGloin doesn't understand the term, but, being a dedicated Jerkass, says Sure, Let's Go with That.
  • 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:


Video Example(s):


Gangs of New York

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.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / TimePassesMontage

Media sources: