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Gangs of New York was a passion project for Martin Scorsese. Set in New York, it tells the story of life in the 1800s in a culturally divided city. Lines are drawn through street corners and gangsters rule the burgeoning metropolis.
It’s a violent film and one that considers many themes and topics that Scorsese helmed narratives often explore. There is gangland warfare, criminals operating outside of the law, and the eventual taming of this landscape by the forces of civilisation.
Here are some very American films similar to Gangs of New York – each one is a piece of narrative cinema from Martin Scorsese.
Perhaps one of Scorsese’s most famous films, Goodfellas tells the story of Mafia wise guys. It’s a film that belongs to a specific era and chapter of human history and it chronicles a time of organised crime, the pressures of the law, and the fraternity of Mafia life.
There are great visual sequences and many filmmakers have attempted to imitate the distinctive stylistic approach Scorsese adopted in Goodfellas. But no one has really come close and the film stands as perhaps the best indicator of Martin Scorsese’s crime infused directorial gaze.
Don’t forget to also have a look at these other films like ‘Goodfellas’.
Mean Streets is sort of like the blueprint for Scorsese’s career. It established the director’s specific narrative concerns and introduced audiences to his future work in the process. There’s the inventive and creative camera work, the film is set in New York City, and the characters are violent gangsters.
And there’s also the inclusion of Robert De Niro. The actor worked often with Scorsese and until Leonardo Di Caprio came of age, De Niro was the actor most associated with Scorsese’s work.
The Departed (find more great similar films here) takes place in Boston, instead of New York City, and it’s adapted from Hong Kong set crime movie Infernal Affairs. It marks a distinctly collaborative moment in Scorsese’s career and it stars Leonardo Di Caprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg.
Although it’s set in a different city, The Departed is just as concerned with place as any other film from Scorsese. In a more structural sense perhaps, The Departed shares similarities with the melting pot of culture, violence, and influence found in Gangs of New York’s narrative and setting.
This is the eighth collaboration between Scorsese and Robert De Niro (the pair haven’t worked together since). Casino is a glitzy tale of life in a Las Vegas casino. It’s a film adapted from a true-story novel written by Nicholas Pileggi.
This isn’t a film about the dangerous and dirty world of organised crime. Instead it’s a wealthy, opulent, and moneyed story of criminals trying to become legitimate. There are of course moments of real violence and Casino finds its tone in the juxtaposition between bright lights and what they reveal.
The above list of films show a Martin Scorsese who has a fixation on the violent world of organised crime. However he’s a versatile director who has worked on films within a variety of disparate and diverse genres.
I’ve listed some other movies like Gangs of New York. The following Scorsese films have different concerns but share stylistic similarities with the director’s organised crime focused work.
This American New Wave film is hard hitting and it documents the story of a man unhappy with his life and nursing psychotic delusions about who is to blame. It’s a story of late night New York City, insomnia, and violence and it stars Robert De Niro too.
Raging Bull is another collaboration between Scorsese and Robert De Niro. This one tells the story of a middleweight boxer with aspirations of the middleweight crown. It’s a sort of realist Rocky and De Niro lost and put on tremendous amounts of weight to portray his character accurately.
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street is a hedonistic tale of white-collar crime. It stars Leonardo Di Caprio in a nuanced portrait of a man driven by excess and the allure of the good life.
Don’t forget to also have a look at these other movies like ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.
Personally I would recommend watching any of the films on this list. Martin Scorsese is a compelling filmmaker and his work speaks for itself. Whether he is telling tales of criminality or people trying to make it in the world, his stories are always ones of aspiration with a focus on the human characters at the heart of the narrative.
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