In Gangs of New York Martin Scorsese takes us back to Manhattan for another gritty, violent look into the criminal underbelly of one of America’s greatest cities. In this story, however, we are transported back into history and see New York City during the Civil War. The film, however, pays little mind to that momentous historical event and instead focuses on the street politics being engineered in some of the city’s roughest slums. The film opens in the recent past, with a turf war between a gang of “natives” and a gang of newly-arrived Irish immigrants. The leader of the Natives, Bill “The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), decisively ends the skirmish by slaying the rival leader, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). Vallon’s son witnesses the entire event before being sent to reform school until his 18th birthday. When he turns 18 Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaves the school and returns to the old neighborhood to seek revenge. Adopting the name Amsterdam, Vallon works his way through the criminal underworld, trying to get closer to the man who killed his father. Along the way Vallon meets and falls in love with Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) whose relationship with The Butcher further complicates Vallon’s deadly aim. Scorsese masterfully sets this microcosm against the larger backdrop of the Civil War and the Draft of 1863, which had profound implications on the city of New York. Carried by spectacular performances by DiCaprio and Day-Lewis, this film tackles the giant task of creating an epic without creating a spectacle.