The Film “Gangs of New York”: Movie Analysis


Crime remains one of the common challenges recorded in different communities. Modern scholars have presented powerful theories that can describe the major factors that compel individuals to engage in detestable acts. Using the film Gangs of New York, the discussion presented below applies different theories to the experienced criminal acts. The paper also describes some of the ecological forces and criminal justice systems that could have helped address some of the outlined behaviors.

Movie Summary

The selected film describes the kind of life many people experience in Five Points, Manhattan. The slum has two rival gangs that engage in a battle over who will control it. This contest results in the death of Priest Vallon, the leader of the Dead Rabbits. William Cutting, also called Bill the Butcher, is the master of the Nativist Protestants (Gangs of New York 2002). The death of Vallon compels Bill to outlaw the Rabbits. Vallon’s son, who uses the assumed name of Amsterdam, escapes with the knife that Bill used to kill his father.

He reappears in Five Points 16 years later in 1862 with the aim of seeking revenge. Amsterdam wins the affection of Jenny Everdeane who later nurses his wounds after Bill stabs him. He still maintains his intention of murdering Bill during one of the celebrations following the Protestants’ defeat of the Dead Rabbits. The organized elections result in the victory of Monk McGinn as the Sheriff while Amsterdam becomes Tammany. Bill’s decision to kill McGinn compels Amsterdam to invite Bill to a battle in Paradise Square (Gangs of New York 2002). During such a gang fight, canon fire interrupts the process and eventually Bill gets wounded by shrapnel. Amsterdam eventually used the same knife to kill Bill. This final act puts an end to Bill’s reign.

Crime Theories

Several theories can describe and explain why Amsterdam, the film’s primary character, decides to engage in deviant behavior. First, the rational choice framework indicates that humans are capable of making their unique decisions and choices. Amsterdam can be presented as someone who decides to engage in criminal behaviors in an effort to avenge his father’s death (Chalfin and McCrary 2017). His personality traits and the observed behavior in the selected slum play a significant role in guiding him to engage in crime. This theory also explains how and why people could analyze Amsterdam’s choice as a product of the lessons he gained from Five Points.

Second, relative deprivation emerges as another powerful theory that can explain why Amsterdam and Jenny engaged in unacceptable behaviors. According to the model, the individuals chose to act in such a manner after realizing that they were disadvantaged in their respective community. The Evangelists appeared to dominate and control the slum after silencing the Rabbits. Such a behavior could have a psychiatric explanation since Amsterdam witnessed the murder of his father (Chalfin and McCrary 2017). Such an occurrence at such a tender age shocked him, thereby striving for revenge as an adult. He always acted out of anger and wanted to kill Bill by all means. This analysis reveals that Amsterdam’s decision to engage in criminal behaviors was not attributed to the inability to attain socially endorsed goals (Brookman and Copes 2018). Instead, he was keen to maintain social bonds with the Rabbits and restore the original glory that Bill had taken away.

Third, labeling theory is capable of explaining why Amsterdam chose to engage in deviant behavior. Specifically, the members of his group were unhappy since the Evangelists were treating them as inferior and incapable of attaining their goals. This aspect of labeling compelled Amsterdam to focus on the best approaches to address the status quo. Consequently, he chose to engage in unacceptable behaviors which would eventually pay off. Social factors played a significant role in determining these outcomes, such as the existing rivalry, prejudice, and discrimination (Gangs of New York 2002). The established structure was also biased and incapable of meeting the demands of the Rabbits. The nature of these criminal behaviors do not present adequate biosocial explanations of the criminal behaviors described in the film.

Criminal Justice System Interventions

The criminal acts and gang culture depicted in the selected film expose some of the gaps that existed in the society. Several forces should have encouraged most of the people to engage in such behaviors. For instance, individual factors were capable of triggering such outcomes, such as hatred, desire for revenge, and fame. For example, Bill wanted to become famous by butchering more people and silencing members of the rival gang. Similarly, Amsterdam wanted to seek revenge following the unexpected death of his father (Gangs of New York 2002). Familial factors also contributed to such an outcome since Amsterdam wanted to maintain the bond between him and his father. Ecological forces can also be identified as possible causes of the recorded violence and unrest. For instance, the individuals lived in a slum without proper policies and support systems to reduce the missions and actions of the gangs.

Proper policies were needed to decrease the nature and fate of such a slum and discourage more people from engaging in criminal acts. First, the concept of social welfare could have encouraged the rival religious groups to coexist and focus on the best ways to pursue their spiritual goals. Second, the government should have considered the importance of fair and coordinated policing activities to make it hard for such gangs to have total control over the slum (Chalfin & McCrary, 2017). Third, the reduction of social conflicts could have prevented the original rival groups from engaging in criminal acts. Consequently, more people would not have died, thereby setting the stage for a peaceful coexistence.

The relevant leaders should have identified and implemented proper strategies and efforts to minimize cases of criminal acts. For instance, proper guidance and security mechanisms would have made it impossible for Bill to murder Vallon and the other Rabbits. Such an outcome would have safeguarded the lives of more people, thereby making it impossible for Amsterdam to seek revenge (Brookman and Copes 2018). The provision of adequate resources and cohesion programs would have educated more people about the importance of peace. Such implementations would also require coordinated policing and criminal justice systems to apprehend offenders and punish them accordingly. Such measures would have, therefore, prevented future criminal acts in Five Points.

Criminal Behaviors vs. Ecological Factors

The studied film has presented typical crimes that could take place in a real-life situation. The producer examined the feud existing between Protestants and Catholics during the mid-19th century and how their ideals merged with this slavery and freedom. This feud was capable of erupting into violence and triggering prolonged enmity. With some of the community members being from minority racial groups, conflict could have emerged whereby the less fortunate wanted to overcome the challenges of oppression (Chalfin and McCrary 2017). These motives of these major characters could, therefore, be realistic and in accordance with most of the issues experienced during the time.

The presented demographics are variable and capable of explaining how the perpetuated crimes could have occurred. For instance, Amsterdam was a member of the oppressed and disadvantaged group in Five Points. Due to the recorded struggles, he had to think deeper and consider new ways of challenging the status quo. Such variables could explain why Amsterdam’s actions were accurate depending on the issues experienced during the period. Similarly, the perpetuated crime appears accurate whereby rival groups existed due to the notions emerging from religious beliefs and the ideas of emancipation (Brookman and Copes 2018). Some of the majority wanted to continue oppressing the minorities and ensuring that they never achieved their social and economic goals. The slum setting and the issues most of the people encountered in the portrayed slum made the ecological factors meaningful and capable of describing the recorded criminal acts.


The above discussion has described some of the theories that capture the factors and reasons that encouraged most of the characters in the selected movie to engage in criminal acts. The recorded challenges, inequalities, and cases of discrimination compelled Amsterdam to revenge and silence Bill’s gang in Five Points, Manhattan. The consideration of these issues and ideas can guide different stakeholders to learn more about deviance and implement powerful strategies to address it.


Brookman, Fiona, and Heith Copes. 2018. “Visualizing Crime and Deviance: Editors Introduction.” Deviant Behavior 39 (4): 417-420.

Chalfin, Aaron, and Justin McCrary. 2017. “Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Economic Literature 55 (1): 5-48.

Gangs of New York. Directed by Martin Scorsese. 2002. New York: Touchstone Pictures, 2002. DVD.