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The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Daniel Day-Lewis

08.22.2013by:

Last week, we took a look at the career of leading man/director/producer extraordinaire George Clooney, certainly one of the most consistent people in the biz. That said there are actors and there are actors and this week’s candidate is most definitely a breed apart.

Daniel Day-Lewis


I have this buddy (coincidently also named Chris) with whom I spend a lot of time talking about movies. Whenever we come around to discussing actors, Chris always says the same thing. “To me, there are two classes of actors. There’s Daniel Day-Lewis, and then there’s everyone else.” While I think there are plenty of great actors out there (after all, this is what this column is all about), it has to be said that Daniel Day-Lewis is special.

Right from the start, Day-Lewis was a breed apart. Even in a “blink and you’ll miss him” part in GANDHI, or playing third fiddle to Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in THE BOUNTY (a great movie btw), Day-Lewis was the man. He’s the logical successor to the great method actors of the fifties, with Day-Lewis still performing at the level a guy like Marlon Brando was when he was in his prime.

Day-Lewis’ commitment to his roles is legendary. Again, as per my friend Chris, “when I first saw MY LEFT FOOT, I thought for sure he actually had cerebral palsy.” It goes further than that. As per the IMDB trivia section, “during The Last of the Mohicans he built a canoe, learned to track and skin animals, and perfected the use of a 12-pound flintlock gun, which he took everywhere he went, even to a Christmas dinner.”

Day-Lewis is notoriously choosy about his projects. Since MY LEFT FOOT, he’s only made ten movies. After THE BOXER, he stopped acting for five years, and worked as a cobbler in Florence. He was lured back for GANGS OF NEW YORK, and the rest is history. At fifty-five, Lewis is still in his prime as an actor, and hopefully, he’ll be giving us more and more incredible performances for years to come.

His best film

This is a very tough one, as Day-Lewis has lots of films on his resumé that would be considered career capping highlights on any other actor’s. For me, I’m going to go with nostalgia and pick THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. It was a film I loved as a child, and it’s one of the rare films that get better every time I watch it. It was a departure for both Daniel Day-Lewis, who was coming-off MY LEFT FOOT, and director Michael Mann, who had never done a period adventure movie (and hasn’t since). Based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, Day-Lewis is Hawkeye, a white man raised by a Mohican adopted father, Chingachgook (activist Russell Means), alongside a full-blooded Mohican brother, Uncas (Eric Schweig). He finds himself drawn into battle when he and his Mohican family, saves the Munro sisters from a party of Hurons. He falls in love with Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and has to protect her from the Huron leader Magua (Wes Studi) who’s sworn to extinguish the Munro bloodline.

This is an INCREDIBLE adventure movie, with superb direction by Mann, and a terrific score by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. Day-Lewis’ chemistry with Stowe is white hot, and takes what could have been an “old-fashioned” adventure and contemporizes it. It’s Day-Lewis’ only real adventure movie, but it’s certainly one of the best I’ve even seen.

His most underrated film

I’m going to cheat here and choose two movies, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER & THE BOXER. It’s OK though, because if you’ve seen these movies, you’ll know they’re linked. Both are directed by Day-Lewis’ MY LEFT FOOTdirector Jim Sheridan, and both center around “The Troubles” examining the effect the IRA campaign against the British has on regular Irish citizens who don’t want to get involved.

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER tells the true story of Gerry Conlon, a Belfast lad who, along with his father (Pete Postlethwaite) finds himself in a brutal English prison based on flimsy evidence linking him to an IRA bombing. Day-Lewis got an Oscar nomination for this, so it’s probably stretching it to say its “underrated” but I feel people often overlook it when discussing his career.

Sheridan’s follow-up, THE BOXER, is really underrated, with it having been a box-office flop that didn’t get any love from the academy. While not as powerful as IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, it’s still a great film in its own right, with a surprisingly low-key performance by Day-Lewis as a former IRA member, who’s sworn off violence, and finds himself navigating life in a newly (mostly) peaceful Belfast. This is a great film, with stunning work ot only from DDL, but also Emily Watson, and Brian Cox as the conscience-plagued head of the local IRA chapter. If you’ve never heard of it or had the chance to see it, I highly recommend checking it out.

His most overrated film

Overrated is a word I hesitate to use for DDL. Whenever one of his performances has been acclaimed, it’s always been justified. However, he’s made one truly bad movie- NINE. A poorly conceived musical version of Fellini’s 8 ½, NINE gives DDL the most two-dimensional role of his career, and even worse, forces him to sing. Day-Lewis can seemingly do anything, except sing. It’s the one huge black mark on his CV, and somehow Harvey Weinstein still managed to get him nominated for a Golden Globe.

His most memorable moment

Given my love of THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, I was tempted to put the “stay alive no matter what occurs” scene here, but really, what else could it be than “I drink your milkshake”??? THERE WILL BE BLOOD is Day-Lewis at his absolute best, with his Daniel Plainview maybe being less of a sociopath than his Bill The Butcher in GANGS OF NEW YORK, but just as scary. Heck, just look at Paul Dano in this scene. Rumor has it the guy originally cast in this part quit because he was too afraid of DDL.

What's next?!

After winning (another) Oscar with LINCOLN, DDL seems to be taking a much-deserved rest. Knowing him, he may be out of the game for a while, but when he does come back, rest assured, it’ll be worth the wait.
My Five Favorites

1. THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
2. THERE WILL BE BLOOD
3. IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
4. LINCOLN
5. GANGS OF NEW YORK

What are your favorite Daniel Day-Lewis performances? Least faves? Best moments from his movies? Strike back below!
Source: JoBlo.com

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2:55AM on 08/23/2013
I remember having my father make me watch In the Name of the Father to show me how life was in Ireland when he was younger. Powerful movie and to say the least an awesome performance by DDL. I also loved Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. To this day I hang my head in shame that I have not seen The Boxer and will be doing it in the next couple days.
I remember having my father make me watch In the Name of the Father to show me how life was in Ireland when he was younger. Powerful movie and to say the least an awesome performance by DDL. I also loved Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. To this day I hang my head in shame that I have not seen The Boxer and will be doing it in the next couple days.
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5:56PM on 08/22/2013

Innocence...

I would say Age of Innocence is his most underrated. Not just as a Day-Lewis film but also as a Scorsese film it doesn't seem to get quite enough love.
I would say Age of Innocence is his most underrated. Not just as a Day-Lewis film but also as a Scorsese film it doesn't seem to get quite enough love.
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+2
3:39PM on 08/22/2013

Michael Mann correction

Michael Mann directed one other period film aside from Mohicans...his Dillinger movie Public Enemies.
Michael Mann directed one other period film aside from Mohicans...his Dillinger movie Public Enemies.
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6:00PM on 08/22/2013
What about The Keep and Ali? Do those not count either?
What about The Keep and Ali? Do those not count either?
10:18PM on 08/22/2013
They do. But I don't think I'd call any of those adventure movies.
They do. But I don't think I'd call any of those adventure movies.
4:56PM on 08/23/2013
I don't think I'd call Last of the Mohicans one either. Not exactly an Indiana Jones film...
I don't think I'd call Last of the Mohicans one either. Not exactly an Indiana Jones film...
11:06AM on 08/22/2013

Daniel Day Lewis IS acting.

DDL is leagues and leagues above everyone else, and that's how it will always be. Even when he makes a lukewarm film, he is still far and away the greatest actor alive right now. To me, There Will Be Blood is his masterwork. It's a beautifully crafted movie and an awesome satire, and Daniel Plainview is to me the greatest single performance of the 2000s. He was astounding in My Left Foot, and he WAS Lincoln. All three Oscars are completely earned. There is no "career" oscar or "we owe him
DDL is leagues and leagues above everyone else, and that's how it will always be. Even when he makes a lukewarm film, he is still far and away the greatest actor alive right now. To me, There Will Be Blood is his masterwork. It's a beautifully crafted movie and an awesome satire, and Daniel Plainview is to me the greatest single performance of the 2000s. He was astounding in My Left Foot, and he WAS Lincoln. All three Oscars are completely earned. There is no "career" oscar or "we owe him one" oscars for him. He DESERVES his accolades. I can't wait to see what he brings us next. He is the master.
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10:52AM on 08/22/2013
There are still a lot of his movies I've yet to check out (like your two underrated picks, as well as Age of Innocence). My Left Foot is definitely one of the most amazing portrayals I've ever witnessed on screen. I have mixed feelings about Gangs of New York as a whole (not one of Leo's better roles), but he was terrific in it. That entire last sequence in Last of the Mohicans when they escape the Huron camp until the end gets me SO FUCKING PUMPED! Also a great showcase for Wes Studi as
There are still a lot of his movies I've yet to check out (like your two underrated picks, as well as Age of Innocence). My Left Foot is definitely one of the most amazing portrayals I've ever witnessed on screen. I have mixed feelings about Gangs of New York as a whole (not one of Leo's better roles), but he was terrific in it. That entire last sequence in Last of the Mohicans when they escape the Huron camp until the end gets me SO FUCKING PUMPED! Also a great showcase for Wes Studi as Magua.

I think another underrated role of his was in The Crucible. He was arguably outshined by Joan Allen and Paul Scofield, but he still brought his a-game. Plus, it's where he met his wife.
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10:27AM on 08/22/2013

Check the avatar

I saw Gangs of New York in HS and his portrayal of Bill the Butcher really upped the level of my passion for movies. Also lets not forget that Bill is just a freaking badass character through and through.
I saw Gangs of New York in HS and his portrayal of Bill the Butcher really upped the level of my passion for movies. Also lets not forget that Bill is just a freaking badass character through and through.
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+2
9:49AM on 08/22/2013

The Last of the Mohicans

It's the movie I make every visitor watch. I have it on Blu ray and it totally fills the room. I love most of DDL's movies but The Last of the Mohicans just gets to me. I stop breathing for 6 minutes during the chase scene towards the end.
It's the movie I make every visitor watch. I have it on Blu ray and it totally fills the room. I love most of DDL's movies but The Last of the Mohicans just gets to me. I stop breathing for 6 minutes during the chase scene towards the end.
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+1
9:30AM on 08/22/2013
I am still pissed Adrien Brody won best actor over his great performance as bill the butcher. I dont when I will get over it, if ever.
I am still pissed Adrien Brody won best actor over his great performance as bill the butcher. I dont when I will get over it, if ever.
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11:11AM on 08/22/2013
I don't know, I really thought Adrien Brody was breathtaking in The Pianist. I have never seen such a chilling portrayal of the Holocaust in my life. I will go ahead and call it a tie. I can't really pick.
I don't know, I really thought Adrien Brody was breathtaking in The Pianist. I have never seen such a chilling portrayal of the Holocaust in my life. I will go ahead and call it a tie. I can't really pick.
-3
9:28AM on 08/22/2013
I don't know baseball at all...but is throwing a curveball...an appropriate expression to use if DDL announced his next project to be a comic book movie? :o) Or may be he should play Desmond's dad in an Assassin Creed movie - just let his hair loose...once...before he leaves this world. Alas, I'm not a cultured / sophisticated movie fan so I've actually only seen two of his movies...and I didn't get to the end of Gangs of New York for some reason. Needless to say, the other was The Last of
I don't know baseball at all...but is throwing a curveball...an appropriate expression to use if DDL announced his next project to be a comic book movie? :o) Or may be he should play Desmond's dad in an Assassin Creed movie - just let his hair loose...once...before he leaves this world. Alas, I'm not a cultured / sophisticated movie fan so I've actually only seen two of his movies...and I didn't get to the end of Gangs of New York for some reason. Needless to say, the other was The Last of the Mohicans...and I thought that was a great movie with an unforgettable theme tune - [link]
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8:53AM on 08/22/2013
Gangs of New York was tremendous.
Gangs of New York was tremendous.
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8:08AM on 08/22/2013

The Last of the Mohicans

Damn close to what we may call a "perfect film", it just hits on all cylinders. He's gone on to do a great many things, but other than Gangs of New York, I don't know if exceptional and enjoyable ever truly touch tips.
Damn close to what we may call a "perfect film", it just hits on all cylinders. He's gone on to do a great many things, but other than Gangs of New York, I don't know if exceptional and enjoyable ever truly touch tips.
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7:51AM on 08/22/2013

How is that underrated?

In the Name of the Father is a huge movie, and correctly recognized as such. It was nominated for several Oscars, and has a ridiculously high score on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a great movie, and anybody over the age of 20 who knows anything about movies gets this.

Instead, try My Beautiful Laundrette for underrated, usually overlooked movie from early in his career that shows his generosity and fearlessness as an actor. [link]
In the Name of the Father is a huge movie, and correctly recognized as such. It was nominated for several Oscars, and has a ridiculously high score on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a great movie, and anybody over the age of 20 who knows anything about movies gets this.

Instead, try My Beautiful Laundrette for underrated, usually overlooked movie from early in his career that shows his generosity and fearlessness as an actor. [link]
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7:26AM on 08/22/2013
In The Name of The Father and The Boxer for me. Great actor and great guy.
In The Name of The Father and The Boxer for me. Great actor and great guy.
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4:32AM on 08/22/2013
Another great entry in this column. But I'm gonna have to disagree with the "Best Film" again, TLOTM is good but it didn't really stand the test of time too well if you ask me. Unlike the superb My Left Foot. Personally my pick would be There Will Be Blood.
Another great entry in this column. But I'm gonna have to disagree with the "Best Film" again, TLOTM is good but it didn't really stand the test of time too well if you ask me. Unlike the superb My Left Foot. Personally my pick would be There Will Be Blood.
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2:42AM on 08/22/2013
Last of the Mohicans is in my top 10, maybe 5, all-time favorite flicks. DDL is 1 of the best actors in the business. Good article. I really liked the choices of movie for each category.
Last of the Mohicans is in my top 10, maybe 5, all-time favorite flicks. DDL is 1 of the best actors in the business. Good article. I really liked the choices of movie for each category.
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2:21AM on 08/22/2013
Guy knows how to disappear into character like few others. He's one of those rare craftsmen who sort of defies the label "movie star" because of how serious he is about the acting aspect of the movies (as an actor should) and not the celebrity part of it.
Guy knows how to disappear into character like few others. He's one of those rare craftsmen who sort of defies the label "movie star" because of how serious he is about the acting aspect of the movies (as an actor should) and not the celebrity part of it.
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