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|“||On my challenge... by the ancient laws of combat, we have met on this chosen ground... to settle for good and all... who hold sway over the Five Points. Us natives, born rightwise to this fine land... or the foreign hordes defiling it. ... And may the Christian Lord guide my hand! Against your Roman popery!||„|
|~ Bill's battle speech|
|“||Thank God... I die a true American.||„|
|~ Bill's last words|
William "Bill The Butcher" Cutting is the main antagonist of the film Gangs of New York, known throughout the setting as the infamously violent leader of the Natives gang. Bill is based on real life gang member William Poole and is played by Daniel Day Lewis.
For many outside the United States, the shores of America represent opportunity and freedom. For William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, an American mobster, foreigners entering the USA are unwelcomed guests and ought to be turned back or exterminated by the rightful inhabitants. As a "Nativist," Cutting controlled the Five Points section of New York with an iron fist, and personally led a number of New York's worst Nativist gangs into battle against their Irish counterparts, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). Fighting by the rules of the streets, the Natives won when Bill killed Priest. However, Bill decreed no one would desecrate Vallon's body, and that Vallon was an "honorable man" who "died a noble death."
Every year on the anniversary of the battle, The Butcher would celebrate his victory at a private celebration in which he would honor his fallen opponent with a "glass of fire." Many years later, the tradition would continue, and one mysterious young man would appear and hope for an invitation of his own: his name was Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) and he was the Preist's son, hell-bent on revenge. Spending many months infiltrating the Natives, he gains Bill's trust and even his respect, all the while waiting for the opportunity to assassinate him at the next victory celebration.
Bill grows attached to Amsterdam, even regarding him as a son of sorts; upon learning his true identity, however, Bill easily deflects the incoming assassination attempt and tortures him in front of the entire crowd, branding his cheek with a heated blade. Against all expectations, Amsterdam survives the torture, and returns to the streets, this time opposing Bill publicaly and earning respect and leadership among many Irish living in the Five Points. Infuriated, Cutting swears to kill Amsterdam just as he did his father.
Amsterdam then attempts to beat Bill through politics. When corrupt political boss William Tweed courts Amsterdam's gang support, Amsterdam agrees to help him win the election if they back his father's old ally Monk McGinn as an Irish candidate for sheriff. Through muscle and voter fraud, Amsterdam helps Tweed win the election, hoping he will now be able to match Bill's power, and for a time they are able to overwhelm xenophobic political candidates sponsored by the Natives. However, Bill gains the upper hand again when he publicly murders Monk, forcing Amsterdam to challenge him to direct combat to settle control of the Five Points.
Unfortunately, on the day of the fight, the working-class of New York begin a riot over the Civil War draft, ulimately leading to an artillery barrage that leaves half the city in ruins. Bill and Amsterdam's attempt at an honorable gang battle is dispersed, leaving the two gang leaders to square off in the growing wreckage of the riot - until another artillery blast leaves Bill mortally wounded by shrapnel. Ultimately, Bill dies at Amsterdam's hand, and is buried next to Priest Vallon.
Background and Personality
Bill's tremendous patriotism comes partly from his own father, who he mentions was killed by the British in a naval battle in the War of 1812. This gives him a tremendous motivation to defend what he sees as the 'real' America. Publicly, he despises the Irish and other immigrants, believing them to be trespassers, taking American jobs and besmirching American culture; like many Americans at the time, he also despises Roman Catholics, and sees the Irish as a threat to Protestant America. He is also heard to make insulting remarks about African-Americans and Chinese, or anyone who does not fit with his vision of America.
However, he does show respect and even affection for several Irishmen, such as the pickpocket Jenny Everdean, his sometime mistress. He has tremendous respect for his late rival Priest Vallon, and even after killing him, keeps a picture of him enshrined in his headquarters. He calls Vallon "The only man I ever killed worth remembering." It is strongly implied that even after discovering Amsterdam's true identity, he still sees him as the son he never had. While discussing the weapons for their upcoming battle, when Amsterdam says 'No guns,' Bill smiles warmly at him and says "Good boy."
In spite of his ruthlessness, he has a strong moral code and sense of honor: although he continues to despise the Irish, it is revealed that he hates Tweed and his corrupt politicians more, for their dishonor and willingness to play both sides; similarly, much of his anger over Amsterdam's assassination attempt is due to the subterfuge involved, Bill raging that Amsterdam should have challenged him and fought publicaly. He's also surprisingly generous to widows and orphans in the Five Points, providing them with free cuts of meat.
Skills and Attributes
Bill's alias isn't entirely due to his violence on the battlefield: he has been formally trained as a butcher, and is well versed in using his knives for both their intended purpose and for use in combat. He is also a skilled knife-thrower, gladly giving public displays of his skills before the crowds - and also successfully ending Amsterdamn's assassination attempt with a single knife to his chest. Despite having only one eye, he has tremendous aim, nailing McGinn in the back with a cleaver from at least twenty feet away. However, he has no interest in firearms, dismissing them as dishonorable.
- His left eye is glass, stamped with an American Eagle where the pupil should be. Bill cut out the real one after being defeated by Priest Vallon. He felt ashamed that he couldn't look Vallon in the eye.
- Bill was based on Bill Poole, the leader of a real-life nativist gang the Bowery Boys, and a leader of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party in 1860s New York. He was idolized by the anti-immigrant movement, so much that plays were written about him after his death. Some of them ended with him saying "I die a true American," echoing Bill's last words in the film.