Martin Scorsese's long-delayed, and just plain long, survey of Irish gangs in lower Manhattan during the time of the Civil War, Boss Tweed, and all that, beginning and ending in major blood baths, with minor blood rinses and sloshes in between. (It's not hard to see why the internecine discord in the New York melting pot was thought unsuitable for post-9/11 entertainment: "It wasn't a city, really," the lowborn narrator grandly philosophizes. "It was more a furnace where someday a city might be forged.") The wonder of it is that it's not more compelling. Indisputably, it has a lot going for it. It gives Scorsese, for a start, a new avenue down which to pursue his lifelong interest in thugs, specifically thugs of a different ethnicity (but same church), with such colorful group identities as the Dead Rabbits, the Plug-Uglies, the Slaughterhousers, the Little Forty Thieves, the Broadway Twisters, etc. It has history; it has sets; it has costumes (the Mad Hatter look was in vogue); it has flavorfully antique language; and it has a daring portrayal by Daniel Day-Lewis of a one-eyed underworld kingpin known as "The Butcher," who looks and acts like someone who would tie Pearl White to a train track and twirl the tip of his mustache while doing it. (Leonardo DiCaprio shrivels alongside him, in spite of his pumped-up new physique.) Yet in all these things the film has more a feeling of musty research than of pulsing life, and as a tale of revenge it seems static and monotonous. And please don't bring up Hamlet for precedent: the Prince of Denmark was not an eyewitness to his father's murder, and he at least had the presence of mind to hash over his hesitation, and for all the flavor of the language here (from a trio of heavyweight screenwriters, Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan), it isn't Shakespeare by a long shot. With Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, John C. Reilly, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson. (2002) — Duncan Shepherd
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