- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Rumors of its death may have been premature, but "Gangs of New York," opening Friday in area theaters, sure went through a painful birthing process.

"Gangs" is the latest film by the iconic director Martin Scorsese and was supposed to be released last Christmas, but Miramax held it back, claiming it would have followed too closely on the heels of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"The film deals very much with New York, with the creation of New York, with the police department," Mr. Scorsese told Entertainment Weekly. "We all felt after September 11 we should take a step back."

Based on a 1928 Herbert Asbury novel, the movie is set in 19th-century Manhattan, when the island was an unsettled stew of ethnic Europeans.

As is typical of Mr. Scorsese's movies, "Gangs" is often graphically violent.

However, post-September 11 sensitivity was not the only thing that delayed "Gangs of New York." Before filming even began in Rome in September 2000, there were script problems, according to Esquire magazine.

The "Gangs" screenplay is credited to three writers Mr. Scorsese's longtime collaborator Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan. They did not write in tandem.

In late 1999, Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, concerned that "Gangs" was too esoteric, reportedly refused to greenlight the movie with Mr. Cocks' original script. Mr. Zaillian (who wrote "Hannibal" and "Schindler's List") and Mr. Lonergan (who wrote and directed "You Can Count on Me") then were brought on board to give the characters more depth.

"Wings of the Dove" writer Hossein Amini also got a chance to rework the script, but he ultimately had to jettison the project to work on another Miramax movie, "Four Feathers."

Then there were money problems. Miramax officially pegs the "Gangs" budget at $97 million, but Esquire's Kim Masters says Hollywood insiders suspect the final figure looks more like $115 million.

Mr. Weinstein, the Hollywood equivalent of a budget-deficit hawk, was none too pleased with the ever-ballooning expenses for "Gangs."

To help bridge the fiscal gap, Mr. Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio personally coughed up $7 million of their salaries, on the condition that they get a piece of the action if the film makes a profit no sure thing, in light of its bloated budget.

Credited as a co-producer of the film, Mr. Weinstein also insisted that the director significantly trim its running time. The film initially ran well over three hours; Mr. Scorsese was able to pare it back to two hours and 40 minutes.

Although he and Mr. Scorsese admit to tense confrontations, both say press reports of a full-blown feud are overstated.

The delay in releasing "Gangs" created some interesting timing anomalies for its actors. Jim Broadbent, who portrays the infamous Boss Tweed, had to leave the Rome set to work on "Iris" for which he already has won an Oscar.

With today's release of "Gangs of New York," Mr. DiCaprio will have to compete with himself next week, when the Steven Spielberg-directed "Catch Me if You Can" hits theaters.

For his part, John C. Reilly, who plays a character named Happy Jack, is happy that he'll be featured in three high-profile movies in the space of a month. In addition to "Gangs," he will appear in "Chicago," which opens Dec. 27, and "The Hours," scheduled for mid-January release.

"That's the added bonus to this whole month, this crazy fluke that all these movies came out together," Mr. Reilly recently told reporters at a press event for "Chicago." "It's great for me."

Whether or not the delay not to mention the script problems and the budgetary wrangling was great for "Gangs of New York" remains to be seen.

Now it's up to moviegoers to determine if it was worth all the trouble.

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