Gangs of New York

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Surround (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround (English). Two discs. Miramax Home Entertainment 24017. R. $29.99.

Picture **
Sound ***
Film ***

Director Martin Scorsese's dramatic take on the gang-infested environment in and around New York City's meanest streets in the mid-1800s—the notorious Five Points—is a visually rich but dramatically uneven epic. A combination of fact and fiction, it follows the fortunes of a boy orphaned in a gang fight and the man who killed his father. It begins in 1846 but quickly moves on to 1863, on the eve of the Civil War draft riots that racked the city.

It's hard to say what went wrong here, and not everyone agrees that the film doesn't really work. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and more than a few critics thought it the best film of 2002. But Scorsese does inspire that sort of passion in his admirers. I never really cared about the characters, was distracted by Daniel Day Lewis' anachronistic 2003 New York accent (no other character in the movie talks that way), and was bothered by such questionable historical details as gunboats firing cannon into the city to quell the draft riots—a ridiculous tactic, given the inaccuracy of the cannon of the day, and supported by no source I've seen. Nor could I sympathize with any of the characters, except perhaps Henry Thomas' John Sirocco. Though Thomas' role is small, for my money he gives the film's best performance. Daniel Day Lewis is superb as always, but I can't get past that accent.

The extra features on this two-disc set are more interesting than the film itself. They include Scorsese's fine commentary and featurettes on the historical background and the magnificent sets, built in Rome, where the film was shot. A problem here is that this 167-minute movie is split between the two discs, as are the special features. I'd have no quibble if this allowed for a better video transfer, but this is one of the worst transfers I've seen since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and for the same reason: The compressionist must have been leaning on the edge-enhancement button. The result looks like mediocre video, not film.

The sound, whether in Dolby Digital or DTS, is respectable but not at all remarkable for a modern production. Neither is Howard Shore's music, apart from a few intriguing ethnic riffs here and there.—TJN