Cover of There Will Be Blood [Blu-ray]
Daniel Day-Lewis is more than an actor. He’s a storyteller. He goes beyond more than just ‘method’ or whatever you want to call it. By the end of watching one of his films he has integrated himself so far into the architecture of the story that it may as well be called “Two Wonderful Hours of Daniel Day-Lewis.”
But that is not always the case, in ensemble films such as “Nine” and “Age of Innocence”, he’s generous and oddly passive. Notably, he’s acting alongside beautiful women in both.
Nevertheless, there’s none of the grandstanding, scenery-chewing expected of him. But that’s just a sign of a great actor… Someone you can never quite label, someone who always surprises you. He’s the Stanley Kubrick of actors. And I’m not necessarily saying he’s always starring in great films. One performance of his equals three performances by say, Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise.
In terms of acting he mixes both Stanislavski’s sentimental and realist method with that of Brecht’s colourful theatrical technique. They say that American actors stress feeling, and British actors stress technique. Well, Day-Lewis has it all. He can underact as well as he can overact. And more recently in “Nine” he’s proven that he’s a capable singer, and a capable dancer, to some degree.
He injects each and every character with a tremendous sensitivity and rage, darkness and brilliance. Sometimes he looks handsome and debonair, sometimes he looks faintly ridiculous. But since when did he care what you thought of him?
Behind the glory, fame and public acclaim… Behind the illusion, behind many a theatrical mask, one wonders whether Daniel Day-Lewis is as infinitely complex and complicated as any of his tour de force performances.
1. There Will Be Blood (2008) – Daniel Day-Lewis has always been in some form, “The Greatest Actor.” For the longest of times, “My Left Foot” and “Gangs of New York” were those go-to movies that best portrayed his talent and charisma as an actor. “There Will Be Blood” seals the deal as “The World’s Greatest Living Actor.”
They say a performance should not be as big as the film. Well the performance is big. And so is the film.
He portrays man’s battle between his Id and Ego. His utter determination to get what he wants, ‘the fever’, displays the darkness and primal forces of his ID. His charismatic diction, his vampire-like posture, the way he talks and behaves around others displays his ego. By the end of the film, he’s pure Id. I could go on and on about this one and I really can’t praise this film or performance enough. I might even dedicate a separate article on it in the future.
Best Part: Take your pick… “I abandoned my child!” or “I drink your milkshake.” or the first twenty minutes. My personal favourite is after killing Kevin O’Connor and whilst burying his body, he pauses for a second as if to comprehend what he’s done, moves to the body, tucks the leg in the hole and continues.
2. Gangs of New York (2002) – I don’t think there is a better example of an actor blowing another actor off the screen. Perhaps Day-Lewis and Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood?
Though, the scene-stealing is impressive whilst considering Leonardo Dicaprio’s current strength as an actor. Day-Lewis plays William Cutting AKA “Bill the Butcher”, a character that deserves his own movie and a performance that equals any Michael Corleone, or Stanley Kowalski or Jake La Motta in terms of magnetism and power.
He’s got that thing those great actors like Jack Nicholson and Robert Duvall have – undeniable watchability. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing. Even when he’s doing something hideous and disgusting- you can’t take your eyes off of him. I’m very glad he got some kind of award for this, if not necessarily, the Oscar.
Best Part: The fear speech he gives Dicaprio. Oh, and my personal favourite,”You see this Knife? I’m going to teach you to speak *beep* English with this knife.”
3. My Left Foot (1989) –
With “My Left Foot”, I think it’s important to see what he’s done with the character. As the crippled painter and poet Christy Brown, Day-Lewis never asks for sympathy and he never tugs at the heartstrings, a lot of the time he plays him unlikeable and inadequate; the anti-Forrest Gump. Don’t get me wrong, he injects the character with humour and plenty of redeeming attributes. It’s just that it’s much more than a technical accomplishment. His physicality is frighteningly realistic, but it’s the fire he breathes that makes the performance great.
His fight to be a man in a man’s world, demonstrated by his constant defiance of his father, drinking harder than anyone, becoming the breadwinner of the family…etc. It’s a lot like De Niro in Raging Bull or Brando in Streetcar… The tortured, sexually frustrated protagonist squeezed in the frame, as if he’s powerless and castrated to the confines around him. Notably, it’s not the last time a Day-Lewis film opens with the main character perfecting his craft with skilful and painful slowness.
Best Part: When he drunkenly offers his love to a beloved therapist only to find out she’s engaged to another man. In a violent outburst he destroys the dinner table with just his head.
4. In the Name of the Father (1993) –
Gerry Conlon is a tremendous performance and is much recommended. If it wasn’t for the above three performances I’d probably make it number one.
I regard this as his James Dean performance. If you watch him closely you’ll notice he’s always doing something, always expanding the canvas – a nervous, fidgeting gesture here, a facial tic there… it’s all making this character real.
The tragic relationship with his onscreen father Pete Postlewaite (in fine form) is the heart of the film as they battle through old grudges.
You may not like him, but you certainly will at the end of the film. The performance is almost like a bildungsroman. You literally see this man grow and mature and become a man.
Tom Hanks was good in Philadelphia. But not this good.
Best Part: Being interrogated by police and breaking down. And the scene, when dealing with his father’s tragic death, his anger and confusion suddenly manifests itself into wrecking his jail cell.
5. The Age of Innocence (1993) – Newland Archer is Day-Lewis’s most fragile, sensitive and nuanced performance. But ever-present is the trademark Day-Lewis rage seething beneath the aristocratic genteel exterior. It greatly reminds me of Clift’s turn as tortured protagonist George Eastman in “Place in the Sun”. He’s fantastic any of the scenes where the real Newland Archer starts to boil to the surface.
Best Part: His advances rejected by Ellen Olenska, he aggressively responds, “You gave me my first glimpse of a real life. Then you asked me to go on with the false one. No one can endure that.”
6. Nine (2010) – Let’s be honest, Daniel Plainview is a tough act to follow. I don’t think he could have got further away from such a character. Guido Contini is a fine and worthy addition to quite a tremendous CV.
The film got mixed reviews and Daniel’s performance got widely panned. In my opinion, he did exactly what was asked of him. Best Part: Performing the song, “I Can Make This Movie” whilst falling apart the seams.
7. The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) – Armed with a thick Scottish accent and looking unhealthily thin, dressed like a Bohemian vagabond pirate… The character of Jack Slavin is a walking, ticking time bomb. He’s a man whose trying to come to terms with all the good and bad things he’s done in his life and is dedicated to leaving his daughter with something that resembles an ordinary life.
Best Part: His reaction to kissing his daughter. At the end when he’s a terrible father by letting the world in and disrupting the harmony. He subsequently breaks down in front of Beau Bridges. Any scene when he threatens Paul Dano.
8. Stars and Bars (1988) – This film along with Eversmile are the ones that ‘apparently’ blot a flawless and clean CV. I very much want to defend the screwball comedy that is “Stars and Bars”, it’s not great, but if there was ever an example of an actor elevating a bad movie, then it’s this one.
As Henderson Dores, Day-Lewis is in fine Hugh Grant-form as a self-effacing, fumbling Englishman in America, a kind of ultra-polite hybrid of Niles Crane and Rex Harrison. If you thought he was funny in Blood or Gangs, I’d suggest you find “Stars and Bars”. Hopefully, this one will get a cult following. Best Part: Jogging around New York entirely naked apart from wearing a cardboard box, yet still behaving gentlemanly with dignity and composure.
9. The Crucible (1996) – Dare I say it. Throughout much of the film Day-Lewis is solid. He looks the part, and he behaves like he lives in that time. The trouble is, it very much feels like he’s done this before. He’s done dirty and smouldering before. Watching it makes you wish you saw him perform Shakespeare back when he did Hamlet in 1990. Towards the end of the film, he turns in a tour-de-force scenery chewing performance that makes you reconsider the character entirely.
Best Part: The scene when he refuses to sign his name and dies for it. “Because it is my name! Leave me my name!” still sends chills.
10. The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – After a series of intense roles, Daniel rejected the script as he didn’t want to play the seemingly invincible action hero, especially in such a mainstream and Hollywood film. But then he reconsidered the notion of playing someone who’s as fearless as any Clint Eastwood incarnation. There’s a quote about Brando that he had the face of a poet and the body of an animal – the same can be said about the character of Hawkeye.
In the film he smoulders from one heroic and lavish set piece to the next one, and it’s no surprise that he still gets offered romantic period roles. Even 18 years later.
Best Part: Declaring to Madeline Stowe in a waterfall, “No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!”
Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) – I think this film is about the mysterious and arrogance of the youthful male libido. I think it’s a dissection of lust against love, about the comfort of monogamy and freedom against the prison of possessiveness. It’s all of these things and perhaps none of them. The way he moves and talks, and looks (He greatly resembles Borat in this film) suggest he’s a sexual threat, a predator. He’s plays the undoing and ‘imprisoning’ of an enigmatic and wolfish foreigner well, indeed.
Best part: Anytime he says, “Take off your clothes.” Or the part when he inspects Juliette Binoche, “Don’t worry I’m a doctor.”
The Boxer (1997) – There’s actual quite a few watchable scenes in this. The Day-Lewis rage is only present for one scene towards the end, but he’s simmering throughout, and his chemistry with Emily Watson is perfect. The performance reminds me of Montgomery Clift’s Private Prewitt in “From Here to Eternity.” Not because they both play boxers but because it’s in no way showy. It’s subtle and understated, quiet and undemanding. Best Part: After kissing his lost love, “Your a dangerous fucking woman.”
Eversmile, New Jersey (1989) – According to close friends his performance as Ferguson O’Connell is the closest to the real Daniel. And to be honest, considering the character’s love for motorbikes, relentless search for perfection in his beloved craft, and general eccentricity, I can see why. The film is bad, but as always, Daniel’s the best thing about it. Best Part: His dentist-searching-for-perfection monologue at the end of the film, “I’m a dentist!”
My Beautiful Laundrette (1986) – I think this is his Gary Oldman-like performance. It reminds me of “Prick Up Your Ears” because the performance is so uninhibited. It’s always very risky for an actor to play gay, but he really leaves absolutely no inkling of really being a straight man playing a gay person, as for example in the champagne/sex scene. Best Part: The sexual tension when Omar (Gordon Warnecki) talks to Johnny for the first time in years.
A Room with a View (1986) – He’s the kind of man who emptys out a room upon his entrance… Day-Lewis’ performance as the effete and sexless Cecil Vyse is quite possibly one of the most painful characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch, and is made all the more amazing by how “My Beautiful Laundrette” was made in the same year. Best Part: The awkwardness of kissing Helena Bonham Carter.
The most recent accomplishment Day-Lewis can add is that of honorary degree. A lot of the time when a movie star receives a degree, you think they haven’t earned it, that they haven’t done the work. I think Daniel Day-Lewis deserves much more…Perhaps a knighthood?