Gangs of New York
A 2002 American historical film by Martin Scorsese based on a 1928 nonfiction book of the same name.
The year is 1846, and rival gangs are fighting over the Five Points district. Priest Vallon leads the "Dead Rabbits", the gang of Irish-Catholic immigrants. Bill "The Butcher" Cutting leads the anti-immigrant Natives. During a bloody battle, Bill kills Priest and declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed as Priest's young son Amsterdam watches.
15 years later, Amsterdam returns to the Five Points and infiltrates Bill's gang with his childhood friend Johnny's help, working his way into Bill's inner circle. Bill, who never recognizes Amsterdam as the son of his old rival, takes him in as a favorite and mentors him. Amsterdam secretly plots his revenge, but doubts his motivation after saving Bill from an assassin. Amsterdam and Johnny's shared attraction for Jenny, a pretty pickpocket and con artist, further complicates matters.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and political corruption of the 19th century. The feel of the era is firmly established through small touches, such as Bill's gang mocking a theater performance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the rampant racism of Civil War America is prevalent throughout the film. Bill maintains most of his power through an uneasy alliance with the Tammany Hall political machine; a critical turning point occurs when Amsterdam wins Tammany to his side by promising him the Irish vote. The film's climax occurs as the New York Draft Riots break out and the U.S. government resorts to violence to stop the insurrection.
- Above the Ruins: The ending scene, overlooking New York after it has been wrecked by the U.S. Navy.
- Abraham Lincoln: An actor portrays him in a production of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and he is greeted with jeers, food throwing, and shouts of "Down with the Union!" This is a pretty good reflection of how working-class New Yorkers actually felt about President Lincoln. In the 1864 election, certain Irish-American neighborhoods of New York hated Lincoln so much that over 90% of voters in them cast their ballots for McClellan.
- Earlier on Bill remarks that they should have ran a better man against Lincoln in the elections when they had a chance, and throws a knife at a picture of Lincoln.
- Action Girl: Jenny is more than capable of taking care of herself. There's also Hell-cat Maggie.
- Affably Evil: Provided you're not an immigrant, Bill seems like he'd be a pretty fun guy to hang around.
- Even if you are, he'll let you hang with him if you're useful enough.
- Alas, Poor Scrappy: In-universe, after spending all the movie treating him like crap, Bill finally says something nice about Happy Jack to Boss Tweed when he finds his corpse strung on a lamp post.
Bill: I could spare ten of you much easier than I could spare him.
- Aluminium Christmas Trees: "The Butcher" is shown working, indeed, as a butcher. By the time this scene comes out he has been well established as a ruthless murderer and crime lord, increasing the surprise.
- Amusing Injuries: Running Gag with McGloin.
- Anachronism Stew: While Scorcese definitely did the research, he noted that the film is intended to be more of an "operatic" myth than a documentary, as a result, he felt free to mix and match cooler-sounding elements of various historical accounts that didn't coexist in real life.
- Antagonist in Mourning: Literally. Bill keeps a shrine to Priest Vallon and celebrates his defeat mournfully every year.
- Anti-Hero: Duh.
- Anti-Villain: Bill is a Type 1. He's a vicious, racist nutjob, but he has a sense of honor and a few Pet the Dog moments.
- Anticlimax: The battle between Bill's Nativists and Amsterdam's revived Dead Rabbits never happens because the supposed background story overtakes the main story. Contrary to cliche movie logic, the problems of two people really don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
- Asshole Victim: Specifically McGloin, during the draft riots. In general most of the rioters could count, it's hard to feel sympathy for them after they start murdering black men and burning down random buildings, mugging people on the street, and invading homes and businesses.
- Badass Boast: Just read the top of the page. Especially badass because he's saying this to a powerful politician, the (in)famous Boss Tweed, while on Tweed's home turf. That takes balls.
- Badass Longcoat: In his stovepipe hat and "duster" coat, Bill looks like the world's dirtiest circus ringmaster.
- Priest Vallon also sports a black one at the beginning of the movie. It stands out against the white snow on the ground.
- Badass Mustache: Bill the Butcher and his prominent handlebar mustache certainly qualify.
- Badass Preacher: Invoked with Priest Vallon who is not an actual priest or clergyman but still goes around wearing a dog collar. But played straight with the Bishop.
McGloin: Did you know there's a nigger in the church?!!
(Bishop smacks him across the head with his Crosier)
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When you've got Leonardo DiCaprio in your film...
- This is emphasized the most when Bill the Butcher captures him and claims that he will disfigure him with a hot knife. We cut to people gasping at Amsterdam (Di Caprio) in disgust... only to see that Di Caprio looks as handsome as ever with only the slightest cut on his cheek. It was a very Narmful scene for some.
- To the film's credit however, it does showcase plenty of dirt and grime amongst the three leading actors. One such notable instance includes the scene in which Amsterdam finally kills Bill; his face is drenched in blood, as is the rest of him. Bill and Jenny don't fare too much better through the riots either.
- Becoming the Mask: See What You Are in the Dark.
- Berserk Button: After being shot in the shoulder by a Gaelic-speaking assassin, Bill goes ballistic. "You mother-whoring Irish nigger!....you see this knife! I'm gonna make you speak English with this fucking knife!"
- Later, when Bill is dealing with Amsterdam's betrayal, the latter spits blood in Bill's face. Bill goes absolutely livid and unleashes a barrage of headbutts before he continues.
- The Berserker / Unflinching Walk: Monk's style of combat during the first battle between Priest Vallon and Bill Cutting. He walks around, ignoring any danger to himself, and just gets his clubs in.
- Big Applesauce
- Big Bad: Cutting.
- Non Sequitur Scene: The Elephant during the riots, and in universe as well, as Amsterdam and company stop during their march to just stare in bewilderment, providing the final proof that the world really has gone mad.
- Black Vikings: Chinese in 1863 New York.
- Boomerang Bigot: The Irish-Catholic McGloin, who joins up with the "Natives" in order to acquire more power on the streets.
- His alliance with Bill is also heavily influenced by his hatred of blacks.
- Brooklyn Rage: Lower East Side Rage, actually. Brooklyn was mostly farmland at the time.
- The Butcher: Bill.
- Butt Monkey: McGloin is this to Bill.
Bill: "Don't mind him, he used to be an Irishman."
- Mulraney is this even more so. When Mulraney escorts a group of aristocrats through the Points, Bill goes out of his way to undermine Mulraney's credibility and make him look like a total putz.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Bill is well-aware that his beliefs are incompatible with the future, and doesn't really mind change - and it's hinted he welcomes it - but not in his lifetime.
- Character Filibuster: Bill has a long one while talking to Amsterdam after their night at a brothel, discussing his life's story while draped in an American flag.
- Chewing the Scenery: Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher.
"What'll it be then? Rib or chop? loin or shank?!"
"I'll paint Paradise square with his blood. Two coats! I'll festoon my bedchamber with his guts."
- The City Narrows: The Five Points in Real Life!
- Cloudcuckoolander: Bill, at least in the theater scene and in a less comical fashion than is usually portrayed. After nearly being assassinated by a Gaelic-speaking radical, he screams in pain (reasonably enough), then sticks his finger into the bullet hole and tastes his own blood, lets loose a monumental Cluster F-Bomb and furiously demands that the captured assassin speak English or he will kill him. Then, when he realizes that both the other audience members and the actors on stage are staring at him, he immediately calms down and graciously says: "Tragedians, let us continue." (see also Sophisticated As Hell).
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: The Natives wear blue sashes while the Irish wear red sashes, like the Bloods and the Crips.
- Partly Truth in Television, only in real life it was just a stripe on their pants.
- Costume Porn: The upper class are only in it for twenty minutes, yet the lower class clothes and all their pretty colors are on full display for most of the time.
- Covered with Scars: Amsterdam has scars on his chest when revealed in a shirtless scene, which he got while in reform school. Bill the Butcher later gives him one on his cheek.
- Crapsack World: New York City of the 1860's is not a fun place, much less the Five Points.
- Cruel Mercy: Priest Vallon once beat Bill nearly to death and then spared him, intending him to live in shame. Bill later turns this around on Amsterdam after publicly humiliating and disfiguring him.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: As Bill's protege, Amsterdam gets to wear fine clothes and gets invited to a cotillion.
- Darker and Edgier: Find any movie or TV show set in the 19th United States that's darker, and more unflinching in it's portrayal of the problems of the culture.
- Dastardly Whiplash: The mustachio-twirling, top-hatted Bill the Butcher could be Snidely Whiplash's uncle. His very, very scary uncle.
- Death Equals Redemption: Amsterdam seems to forgive Johnny when he dies.
- Death of the Hypotenuse: Johnny in a case of death by Butcher.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The examples are legion. Chinese immigrants are physically (and violently) prevented from voting. Two rival city fire departments brawl in the street instead of actually putting out the fire. The welfare state is nonexistent, as the only people who give a damn about the sufferings of the slum inhabitants are church leaders and opportunistic "do-gooders" like Boss Tweed. And the only action taken against the threat of epidemic disease is squirting antibiotic gunk all over the streets from time to time.
- Did Not Do the Research: There's a scene in the film where Amsterdam and Jenny are about to have sex and Jenny protests about Amsterdam removing her (bizarrely external) corset. (Wearing an external corset back then would be like wearing a bra over your clothes now.) That's not the problem though. The problem is that Jenny doesn't want to spend ages lacing the corset up - but it has a busk, a front fastening of hooks and eyes that can be easily unclipped. It's like saying "I can't take my bra off because I don't want to sew the shoulder straps back together after I cut them!" rather than using the hooks at the back. Jenny rips the lacing out anyway, rather than using the busk like a normal person. Out of all the research, why did they go so randomly wrong on this point, and make a whole scene trigger on it?
- The busk of a fastened corset is under a great deal of strain, as normally a corset of that type is put on by first fastening the busk then tightening the laces. The procedure is repeated in reverse to undo the corset. Jenny would have needed to loosen the laces of her corset before undoing the busk, as failure to do so can actually break the busk.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Bill the Butcher doesn't like to use guns when he fights, preferring to stick to meat cleavers and butcher's knives, because he follows a strict code of honor. His arch-rival Priest Vallon held the same belief, so when Bill's Natives faced off against Vallon's Dead Rabbits the fight included just about every weapon but guns. This also goes for later in the movie when young Amsterdam Vallon and the resurrected Dead Rabbits negotiate a duel with Bill's gang, and when agreeing on what weapons will be allowed, Amsterdam specifies that there will be no pistols, to which Bill replies "Good boy."
- Secret Test of Character: Bill actually suggests pistols to him, prompting Amsterdam to refuse them.
- The Dragon: "Happy Jack" Mulraney to Bill.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Cutting to Boss Tweed.
- Duel to the Death: Bill vs. Priest; later, Bill vs. Amsterdam.
- Dull Surprise: Amsterdam, for someone with a "murderous rage" in him, is pretty bland.
- End of an Age: Bill laments the death of the old ways, and the birth of the impersonal modern era. "Civilization is crumbling."
- Enemy Mine: Nativists and Dead Rabbits can be seen fighting together when the Army attacks New York.
- Considering you have Dead Rabbits in the Nativists (like McGloin) already, and the fact that despite all his rantings about the Irish, Cutting is a second-generation Irish himself, it's not surprising.
- Epic Movie: This was to be Scorsese's Epic Movie, and chef d'ouevre. Executive Meddling caused it to be cut down some, and the acting of the romantic leads has led to mixed critical reception. It's nevertheless every inch an epic film though.
- Eye Scream: Bill taps a knife against his glass eye, an effect that was actually improvised by Daniel Day-Lewis with the help of an extra-thick contact lens. Not to mention that Bill says he plucked the eye out himself and mailed it to Priest Vallon because he wasn't able to look the Priest in the eye during his first defeat.
EyepatchGlass Eye Of Power : Bill's glass eye has an American Eagle instead of a pupil.
- Famous Last Words: "Thank God, I die a true American." Bill the Butcher's last words, both in Real Life and in the film.
- Final Battle: Lampshaded.
- Floating Head Syndrome: With jumbled names to boot! I never knew that Cameron Diaz had such a cool mustache!
- Foe Cooties: "I'm not interested in The Butcher's leavings."
- Foe-Tossing Charge: The opening melee involves William Cutting wading through Mooks towards Vallon.
- Fourth Wall Psych: After killing Monk, Bill looks into the camera to say, "That, my friends, is the minority vote." He's actually talking to the people inside the barber shop.
- Friendly Local Chinatown: Where you get to listen to endearingly bizarre "ching-chong" opera music and ogle strumpets imprisoned in birdcages.
- Gangsterland: Everybody in the Five Points is either in one of the gangs or has been bribed into doing the gangs' bidding.
- Girl with Psycho Weapon: Hell-cat Maggie has Wolverine Claws.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Bill has a glass eye; later, he brands Amsterdam's face with a hot knife.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Bill caving in Monk's head with his own shaleileigh.
- Groin Attack: Jenny uses this against Amsterdam. He doesn't go down for the count though.
- Hidden Depths: It's strongly hinted Bill knows that his way of thinking is dying, and even accepts it. He simply refuses to live in the "modern world" that is coming.
- Historical In-Joke: "Now that was bloody Shakespearean. Do you know who Shakespeare was? He was the fellow who wrote the King James Bible."
- African beats mixed with the Irish jig ("A jig doing a jig", says Bill), and you get the origins of tap dancing.
- Hollywood History: Averts one of the most fundamental modern facets of it hard. Hollywood History currently holds that the Union was made up entirely of intelligent, thoughtful people who abhorred slavery down to their very souls, and supported the war to a man (and certainly makes no mention of anything like a draft). Showing the war as being unpopular anywhere in the Union, let alone the modern heart of American liberal thought (New York City) was actually pretty revolutionary (and unpopular from some quarters).
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jenny.
- Hope Spot: Monk wins against a Nativist candidate for the position of sheriff in a
fairelection, but Bill kills him anyway.
- Hypocrite: For all of Bill's talk about honor and traditional laws of combat, his primary method of attack is sneaking up behind his enemy to stab them.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Hell Gate Reformatory in the Bronx.
- I Kiss Your Hand: Bill the Butcher kisses the hand of an uptown girl visiting the sleazy Five Points, complimenting her perfume.
- Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: Played for Laughs when an incredibly obvious transvestite (stubble and all) shows up to a dance where males are paired with females. He, of course, goes to the "female" side.
- In the Back: Bill the Butcher throws a meat cleaver into Monk's back after he is elected sheriff, before beating Monk to death with his own shaleileigh.
- In the Name of the Moon: The street warriors all call out their gang names before battle.
- The Irish Mob: Depicted in their early days as a street-gang mostly concerned with protecting the Irish Catholic immigrant community from hostile Protestants.
- Irish Priest: Priest Vallon of course.
- Irony: Bill spits when a Tammany representative tells him he will be rewarded for bringing Irishmen to the polls, and says he will not play a part in handing the country over to those who played no part in fighting for it; cut to newly arrived Irishmen being made to sign enlistment papers and given guns and uniforms along with their application for citizenship, and getting on a troopship while coffins are being offloaded.
- It May Help You on Your Quest: Monk gives Vallon his father's rusty shaving razor.
- Karmic Death: An entire Union flank turns it's attention to resident Jerkass, McGloin.
- Kick the Dog: Bill stabbing Monk In the Back with a butcher knife.
- Kill'Em All: And how.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Bill stages an impromptu one with Jenny as the target.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Monk. Not that he doesn't know better, the poor bastard.
- Knife Nut: Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Amsterdam trains himself to be an expert at throwing knives.
- Large Ham: Daniel Day-Lewis must have been enjoying himself.
"WHO IS THIS UNDER MY KNIFE?!?!"
- McGloin does his share of scenery chewing.
"DIDJA KNOW THERE'S A NIGGER IN THE CHURCH?!" (Whack!)
- Meaningful Name: Amsterdam Vallon. New Amsterdam, of course, was the original name of New York.
Bill the Butcher: Amsterdam? I'm New York.
- Jenny's last name, on the other hand, is Aberdine, an Irish town.
- Mercy Kill: Johnny. Also, Bill does this to Priest Vallon at the start of the film when he tells his son not to look away.
- Minor Insult Meltdown: Bill the Butcher during the knife throwing act. "Whoopsie-daisy!"
- Mob War
- Mortal Wound Reveal: During the final battle, after the duel is interrupted by cannon fire and the smoke clears, Bill the Butcher and Amsterdam sit up. It's revealed that Bill the Butcher has a shrapnel wound in his gut.
- Murder Arson and Jaywalking / False Confession: Boss Tweed needs four hangings to keep crime down, and Bill obliges by getting him four (willing?) petty criminals (?) to hang. One takes pride in being hung in front of his family, since they will be paid for his execution.
Judge: You stand here convicted of lewdness, jackrolling, sneak thievery, chloral hydrating, sodomy, strangulation and enthusiastic corruption of the public good.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Johnny betrays Amsterdam when he realizes she has eyes for Amsterdam and not him.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: His last name is "Cutting". And everyone refers to him as "The Butcher".
- Nice Hat: Bill the Butcher sports a stylish top, as do a few of his associates.
- Ultra tall pimped-out stovepipe hats became associated with gangsterism after upper-class kids started imitating the foppish Bowery Boys and hanging out in Astor Place.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Twice by Bill.
- No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Bill would never have recognized Amsterdam on his own.
- Not So Different: Bill on the Priest.
Bill: The Priest and me, we lived by the same principles. It was only faith divided us.
- Amsterdam dismisses the rich families like the Schermerhorns and Greeleys in the north of Manhattan as "rich gang members".
- Amsterdam and Bill. Compare Bill's backstory and Amsterdam's arc post-beatdown.
- Not Worth Killing: Amsterdam gets off with a nasty scar, though. Foreshadowed by Bill's speech about the Priest doing the same thing to him. Jenny also qualifies during the Knife-Throwing Act.
- Officer O'Hara: Mulroney.
- One-Scene Wonder: Technically, Liam Neeson. Hellcat Maggie, too.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Played straight—Bill the Butcher and Vallon. Lampshaded when their climactic battle is rudely interrupted by a naval bombardment of the city. Bill discusses it on several occasions as being part of his "ancient laws of combat".
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Cameron Diaz is the most guilty of this, but she's only the most guilty. Meanwhile you have English method-Nazi Daniel Day-Lewis, who listened to ancient recordings of William Jennings Bryan to get a better approximation of a New York accent that doesn't even exist anymore. Justified for Amsterdam, who "lost his language" after living for sixteen years in an orphanage run by Americans, so a slip-up could be expected.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: Priest Vallon's shaving razor. It turns out Monk went rifling through Vallon's effects to retrieve it for the orphaned Vallon years later.
- Parental Substitute: Bill to Amsterdam for a short while.
- Percussive Pickpocket: Jenny does this to Amsterdam when they meet.
- Pet the Dog: "That ain't really my mother."
- Police Are Useless: Though not for the expected reasons.
- Politically-Correct History: Averted. Amsterdam's gang includes a black member, who is taunted, scorned, and ultimately lynched.
- Politically-Incorrect Villain: Of course, it is the 1860's, but still.
- Post Mortem One Liner: "That, my friends, is the minority vote."
- Precision F-Strike: "Heres da ting: I don't give a tuppeny fuck about your moral conundrum you meat-headed shit-sack. ...That's more or less da ting."
- "Mr. Tammany Fucking Hall..."
- Public Domain Character: Boss Tweed, head of New York City's Tammany Hall Democratic machine and (therefore) more or less boss of working-class New York (rich people were, increasingly, Republicans). Bill is also based on a real person, but many more liberties are taken with him (including the name of the character) in order to make a compelling story.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The fight scenes contain no ramping, Slow Mo or elaborate choreography and look ridiculous. People are punched and then fall over in an effect that is almost narmful, even though it's probably one of the most accurate depictions of a massive brawl in recent cinema. After seeing stylized fight scenes in movies, more genuine ones look ridiculous.
- Maggie the Cat may seem like a ridiculous caricature, but she was a real person and exactly as depicted in the film.
- The Resenter: Johnny. It doesn't end well.
- Reset Button Ending (sort of):
"But for those of us what lived and died in them furious days, it was like everything we knew was mildly swept away. And no matter what they did to build this city up again... for the rest of time... it would be like no one even knew we was ever here." Doubles as Tear Jerker.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
- Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: The climactic gang fight is interrupted by the U.S. Navy bombarding New York with cannon fire.
- Scenery Gorn
- Self-Deprecation: "I look as sober as my grandfather... He was a stinkin' drunk."
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The Union engagement of the mob reveals the ultimate pointlessness of Bill and the Irish gangs' ancient code of ethnic vendettas and street combat, which has been rendered obsolete by the advent of the modern era.
- Slap Slap Kiss: More like Kick Scramble Sex for Jenny and Amsterdam.
Amsterdam: Is there anyone in the Five Points you haven't fucked?!
Jenny: Yes! YOU!
- Sleazy Politician: Boss Tweed, natch.
Tweed: The appearance of the law must be upheld... especially when it is being broken.
- Sleep with One Eye Open: And Bill's only got one eye, which is why he says he never sleeps much.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Like Oliver! 's cleaned-up version of Victorian England, Scorsese's 1864 is surprisingly bright (the real New York of the 1860's, particularly the lowly Five Points district, would have had far more manure on the streets and pigs running around). Although there's a good deal of gritty in the characters.
- There's still a stark difference between how the Five Points look compared to how clean and bright uptown New York looks.
- Smug Snake: Happy Jack Mulraney is a totally loathsome little sod, who will quite complacently use his position as a policeman to beat up and extort bribes from the petty criminals of the Five Points, but is totally dominated by Bill.
- Boss Tweed, too. He tries to be a Magnificent Bastard. In the latter half of the film, he stokes the flames of conflict between Bill Cutting and Amsterdam until the two are driven into a gang war which leaves all his rivals decimated. As a result, he is able to emerge as the uncontested master of New York politics until his downfall in 1871. However, a lot of his constituency is dead by the movie's end. "We're burying a lot of votes tonight..."
- Society Marches On: Of course. But Bill wouldn't recognize the Five Points as it is now, in the financial and government center of Manhattan.
- Sophisticated As Hell: Bill's speaking style: "From which part of that excrementitious isle were your forbears spawned?". Ironically, he couldn't never read too good.
- Bill is also very worldly and stylish. When he kisses the hand of a young Schermerhorn lady, Bill smiles and comments on her perfume, "Mm, Orange Blossom, delicious."
- And then goes on to deliver a Stealth Insult to the girl's father within her hearing; he calls her a peach and says she should have a fine career on the stage, which is apparently a compliment of her looks, but when you consider that actresses were for a long time equated with prostitutes...
- Bill is also very worldly and stylish. When he kisses the hand of a young Schermerhorn lady, Bill smiles and comments on her perfume, "Mm, Orange Blossom, delicious."
- So Proud of You: Bill on Amsterdam in the weirdest ways. Their relationship is... complicated. See Does Not Like Guns for one example.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The music during the battle between Priest Vallon and Bill Cutting's gangs is a fairly modern synth dance beat.
- Also the music "Shimmy She Wobble" playing as the Rabbit's are readying for battle sounds like it may be an old Irish tune, but is really a fife and drum blues number from Mississippi recorded in the 1950's.
- The "The" Title Confusion
- Time Passes Montage: One of the most famous things about the film is the very end. Miramax had a lot of problems with it in the wake of 9-11, causing it to be delayed a whole year, sadly.
- Torches and Pitchforks: The New York Draft Riots are initially a protest over the Union drafts, but quickly devolves into a deadly lynch mob.
- Trash the Set: Gangs Of New York did this for the Draft Riot scene, which was a pity if you think about it, they don't often make such detailed and elaborate sets for movies these days.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Bill the Butcher was a real person and the New York Draft Riots actually did happen. Unfortunately the real Bill the Butcher died in a shooting eight years before the Draft Riots took place. Frighteningly enough, Hellcat Maggie was a real person too.
- The real Bill was also much less dangerous than his fictional counterpart: he apparently never killed anyone.
- Much of the film's dialogue is taken from contemporary accounts of the Draft Riots, albeit out of context.
- Violent Glaswegian: Sub in an Irishman for a Scotsman and the trope is played totally straight.
- Vote Early, Vote Often: Monk might very well have won the election fair and square but Boss Tweed made sure he had several times more votes than there were voters.
Amsterdam: Twice? You only voted twice? You call that civic duty?!
- What You Are in the Dark: Amsterdam fears that he may have saved Bill out of genuine affection for the killer of his father.
Bill: He was the only man I killed worth remembering... I never had a son. Civilization is crumbling.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: "You should have shaved closer this morning."
- Worthy Opponent: Of all the men Bill has killed, he only remembers Amsterdam's father.
Bill: The Priest and me, we lived by the same principles. It was only faith divided us. He gave me this, you know. That was the finest beating I ever took. My face was pulp, my guts was pierced, and my ribs was all mashed up. And when he came to finish me, I couldn't look him in the eye. He spared me because he wanted me to live in shame. This was a great man. A great man. So I cut out the eye that looked away. Sent it to him wrapped in blue paper. I would have cut 'em both out if I could have fought him blind. Then I rose back up again with a full heart and buried him in his own blood.
- Right after he kills Priest, Bill solemnly places a dagger on Priest's chest and whispers reverently, "You're gonna need this to cross the River", then lets his men know ears and noses of their victims will be the trophies of the day but Vallon will be untouched to cross over into the afterlife whole. His last moments with the dying man are kind of touching in their own way as well.
- Wretched Hive: Amsterdam refers to the Five Points as "the forge of Hell." Later he gets a guided tour of all the various criminal subcultures hanging out in Paradise Square.
- Yellow Peril: The Chinese community is portrayed quite sympathetically, however in-story they're viewed this way by the white majority, and the costumes recall this to some degree. Complaints on historical accuracy claim that New York's Chinese population in those days was so miniscule as to be irrelevant to the time period or anyone's interest.
- You Killed My Father/ Not in This For Your Revolution: This is Amsterdam's motivation for stalking Bill when he first arrives in New York, but as time goes on his crusade becomes more and more bound up with the plight of the Irish immigrants.
- You Will Be Spared: "God's only man spared by the Butcher!"