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The Gangs of New York Movie Review


The movie “Gangs of New York” depicts a time during the Civil War when rivals fought for the control of the Lower East Side of New York. The film is characterized by two varied forces fighting. One side comprises of the native thugs led by a man referred to as vicious Bill “The Butcher.” Another side was led by Irish American Amsterdam Vallon together with despised “foreign hordes” who were struggling to establish territories in the city. The primary objective of this paper is to review the movie “Gangs of New York” to ascertain the primary powers which led to the formation and effects of the gang group.

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Gang and Gang Type

The movie “Gangs of New York” is based upon the 1928 nonfiction book of Martin Scorsese. It symbolizes a gang that is generally characterized by hatred, violence, revenge, and lust. It begins with an illustration of the 1846 street war between the Protestant New York ‘nativists’ and the Irish-Catholic immigrants. The part of Priest Vallon aims at forging new territory for their generation (Scorsese, 2002). The natives, on the other hand, led by William ‘The Butcher,’ endeavor to protect their land from the invaders. Both groups fight for their life and dignity.

Major Themes of the Movie

One of the major themes, as portrayed in the movie, is revenge. After the initial battle is won and Vallon is killed by Cuttings, the immigrants scatter and remain defeated. However, sixteen years later, Amsterdam Vallon’s son arrives at Five Points ready to avenge the killing of his father (Scorsese, 2002). The theme of love is equally explicitly portrayed in the film. After infiltrating Cutting’s gang, Amsterdam encounters Jenny, who is a professional pick-pocket. The two quickly fall in love and become a formidable team of criminals who specializes in stealing from the rich.

Spirituality, as a theme, is portrayed as one of the major promoters of the war. The Catholics and Protestants clash in their attempt to increase their territories. Priest Vallon and his group serve communion as they prepare to face the Protestants. Both sides pray to God for the success of their endeavors and the ability to scour their opponents from the earth’s surface (Meneghetti, 2017). Later, after praying to God for the ability to forgive his adversaries, Priest Vallon throws his bible in the river and goes for revenge.

Gang Life Portrayal in the Movie

Gang life is sensationalized as flashy and futile in the sense that both leaders are shown to possess most of the valuable objects. It is also portrayed as a lifestyle that does not respect human life and regards compromise as a weakness. The movie shows the gang life as that full of pleasure as Cutting is surrounded by naked women with whom he practices sex at will (Meneghetti, 2017). Most of the scenes in the movie include gore symbolizing the level of immorality among the gang members.

Generally, the “Gang of New York” portrays a life of recklessness full of uncertainties. The movie depicts a life of graphic and pervasive violence. Almost all of the social gatherings end up in riots or brawls that lead to loss of life. There is a high degree of uncertainty, as no one seems to be sure of survival daily. Most members are depicted to have adapted to the use of profane language, and drinking alcohol and using drugs is a common occurrence in the life of a gang.

Criminal Activity Involvement by the Gang

The gangs in the movie are involved in various criminal activities including violence and murder, stealing, destruction of property, rape, pick-pocketing, and gambling. Their criminal activities usually end up in violence and killings of the opposing group Meneghetti, 2017). Both sides commit acts of murder to avenge their loved ones who had been killed similarly.

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The cycle of brutality continues as recruits are forced with oaths to remember and avenge their kin who have been killed. During such violent events, racism determines the type of abuse that is unleashed in an individual. The Chinese, Blacks and other immigrants are constantly and brutally insulted while such cruel behaviors are not condemned (Palmer, 2015). The political class, on the other hand, set a distressing example by clinging to power and popularity instead of ethics and truth.

The Attempts of Law Enforcement in Controlling the Gang Activity

The movie indicates that law is not promptly applied to provide justice to criminal elements. The people in positions of authority are highly inclined to criminal activities which fuel the disorder. They do not have any opportunity in the regions controlled by gangs. The police forces are depicted to fight one another frequently more than they combat the criminals. Competing stations are preoccupied with competing with each other while buildings burn down in their jurisdictions (Palmer, 2015). Politicians are equally not concerned with appalling lawlessness and participate in criminal activity by murdering their opponents.


In conclusion, the New York Gang movie has managed to depict the reality of the criminal activities in the present society. The film has shown that such a life is highly characterized by violence, revenge, and death. Nevertheless, most of the criminals have continued to deny the dirty side of the story and instead depict a flashy and full of life. Despite the aforementioned scenario, the police have done very little to limit the progress of such injustices in society. Therefore, there is a need for change to promote sanity in the community.


Meneghetti, M. (2017). Fearsome acts of interpretation: Audiovisual historiography, film theory and gangs of New York. Film-Philosophy, 21(2), 223–244. Web.

Palmer, B. D. (2015). The hands that built America: A class-politics appreciation of Martin Scorsese’s gangs of New York. In Marxism and historical practice (Vol. II) (pp. 123–152). Brill. Web.

Scorsese, M. (2002). Gangs of New York [Movie]. YouTube.

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