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