A towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis powers Martin Scorsese's blood-soaked epic of love, revenge and urban warfare in 19th century New York. Day-Lewis plays Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting, the all-conquering gang leader who becomes mentor to a cocky upstart (Leonardo DiCaprio), unaware that the lad is the son of his conquered enemy. By turns sweeping and intimate, Scorsese's saga unfolds like a Dickensian Goodfellas, plunging morally murky characters into a world where the streets literally run red with blood. Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, John C Reilly and Liam Neeson round out the powerhouse cast.
Set in the hell-on-earth that was lower Manhattan in the mid-19th century - the antithesis of the New York of Scorsese's 90s classic The Age Of Innocence - most of the film takes place at the Five Points - a poor neighbourhood where gangs fought for control of the surrounding streets.
The film opens with such a battle between locals, led by the aptly named Bill the Butcher (Day-Lewis) and an Irish immigrant priest (Liam Neeson).
This is a shockingly brutal sequence that had audience members covering their faces as knives, axes and clubs are used in hand-to-hand combat that leaves the area littered with corpses - including Neeson's.
Witnessing his father's death is a young boy, Amsterdam Vallon, who returns 16 years later as a braided-haired Leonardo DiCaprio out for revenge.
Despite the fact that the film takes place during one of the most turbulent periods of American history, it goes for the easy Titanic option - using an historical event as a backdrop for a love story, leaving us with a hybrid of Titanic, West Side Story and Romeo And Juliet.
Technically, the film is perfect - the money is all up on the screen. The excellent Daniel Day-Lewis is ably supported by a superb supporting cast of character actors such as Jim Broadbent, John C Reilly and Brendan Gleeson.
Alas, DiCaprio is miscast - the role calls for an actor (as he once was) rather than a star (as he has become) - and this, added to the weak story, leaves the film floundering.
The rousing opening offers hope that the film is leading to a suitable stirring climax, but it simply fizzles out as the gang theme is jettisoned.
Thankfully, it's not the Scorsese of Bringing Out The Dead, but you wish the Scorsese of GoodFellas, Raging Bull, Casino and Taxi Driver would put in an appearance.