In the early 1860s, New York’s Five Points was a violent, lawless and vice ridden district, home to waves of poverty stricken Irish immigrants. Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a young boy when he saw his father slain in one of the many battles between the Irish and the gang of Native Americans led by the charismatic and deeply nationalistic William 'Bill The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). After 16 years in an orphanage, Amsterdam returns to Five Points, intent on revenge, and works his way into Bill’s inner circle. But his mission becomes less personal when he sees the potential for the thousands of Irish to act in unison, and becomes a catalyst for them. Meanwhile, his attraction for the feisty pickpocket Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) is on a collision course with her past links to Bill – and the destinies of all three collide with the Civil War Draft Riots in 1863.

A very slow-burning revenge tale.

In 1846, Bill The Butcher(Daniel Day-Lewis) leads his gang, The Nativists, descendents of Dutch and American settlers, against the Dead Rabbits, Irish-Catholic immigrants and led by Vallon (Liam Neeson). The Butcher kills Vallon as the latter's small son watches, horrified. 16 years later, the boy, now known as Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to the mean streets of the Five Points district on the Lower East Side with vengeance in his heart. He's taken in as a member of The Butcher's gang, and falls in love with Jenny (Cameron Diaz), a resourceful young prostitute.

The film looks amazing but DiCaprio is a very uninteresting hero.

Martin Scorsese's long-awaited epic looks amazing. On huge sets designed by Dante Ferretti and built at Rome's Cinecitta Studios, Scorsese creates New York at the time of the Civil War as a Dickensian world of squalour and extreme violence on one side and elegant opulence on the other. The background is utterly fascinating, not only for the gang warfare, but for the politics, the resistance to the war, the opposition to President Lincoln and to the draft, the fate of new immigrants, and the climactic Draft Riots. The marginal characters are always interesting, but the central story – a very slow-burning revenge tale - is surprisingly prosaic and though Day-Lewis makes a fascinating villain, DiCaprio is a very uninteresting hero. The film has great sequences, but there are reports that Scorsese is unhappy with this cinema version, which is shorter than he wanted, so maybe the eventual DVD will reveal a more interesting and nuanced director's cut.