By 1993, Scorsese and Day-Lewis had both come a long way in their careers and they finally collaborated on “The Age of Innocence.” Adapted from Edith Wharton’s 1920 novel, the film is set in 19th-century New York and tells the doomed love story of Newland Archer (Day-Lewis) and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). Day-Lewis was initially skeptical about playing Archer, feeling he was “too English”, but he agreed as he wanted to work with Scorsese. While filming “The Age of Innocence,” Scorsese and screenwriter Jay Cocks realized Day-Lewis would be a perfect fit for another project they were working on: “Gangs of New York.”
It was a film that Scorsese and Cocks had spent decades trying to make. Scorsese discovered Herbert Ashbury’s book “Gangs Of New York” in 1970 and was captivated by the telling of his hometown’s history. After Scorsese bought the film rights in 1979, it took the film 20 years to take off due to difficulties in reproducing 19th century NYC. “Gangs Of New York” finally premiered in 2002, 32 years after Scorsese first came up with the idea and 9 since his last collaboration with Day-Lewis.
Day-Lewis came off a 5-year hiatus to play Bill “The Butcher” Cutting on “Gangs.” An anti-Irish gang leader, Cutting was an ironic role for Day-Lewis given his fatherly Irish heritage. Either way, he excelled. “Gangs of New York” isn’t one of Scorsese’s best, but it is Day-Lewis’. He is quite magnificent as a butcher; even offscreen, it eclipses Leonardo DiCaprio’s protagonist, Amsterdam Vallon.