Originally Reviewed – 6/7/2011
Daniel Day Lewis is an actor that I always look at with a crooked glance. While you can’t argue his energy, passion and work ethic, I sometimes feel the guy needs to be toned down a bit. Fiery eyed and wild in his delivery, most know him for his over the top turns in films like Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood. Although these are both fine movies in their own right, they feature an actor whose been given free reign. Rather than coaxing a more controlled performance from the actor, they allow him to scream, yell and borderline overact many of the scenes he’s in. Lewis is an actor that needs good direction and without that, he sometimes goes off the rails in his high energy performances. Now, many DDL fans will say that’s simply his style, that Lewis has an intense energy that can’t be contained. To these people, I say look no further than his earlier work, culminating in one of his finest performances to date, the portrayal of Irish painter Christy Brown in the fantastic My Left Foot.
Born with only the use of his left foot due to cerebral palsy, My Left Foot documents the life of Christy Brown, from childhood to his first attempts at painting to the completion of his novel, all accomplished with the use of his remaining working appendage. No ghost writers, no friends working the brushes, just a man and his dreams, creating wondrous works of art despite his handicaps. The film is not only accurate to the life of Brown but true to the nature of the man and the family that supported him. Born in 1930’s Ireland, Brown came from a low income family who didn’t put him in a home, as any family of means would’ve done during that era, but rather take him in as one of their own, giving him a childhood filled with love and patience. This car and attention is faithfully reflected in the film, a wise decision by director Jim Sheridan, who would go on to direct Lewis in both the excellent In the Name of the Father and The Boxer. As the film goes on, we start to feel both Brown’s physical and emotional struggles, creating not just a pitiable character, but a complex one, filled with the same type of frustrations, fears and desires as anybody else. In short, the film is well directed, well written and full of complex yet easily relatable emotions.
Lewis plays Brown in his adult years, and delivers a career making performance, giving the character a very human interpretation. Brown is no sad sack and neither is Lewis’ portrayal, letting his character experience the whole range of human emotions with his signature intensity while still remaining grounded in the role. Playing a character stricken with cerebral palsy, Lewis is limited in his bodily motions, forcing him to rely on solid acting technique to convey Brown’s emotions, the most effective being his steely gaze. Even today, Daniel Day Lewis has an extraordinary way of using his eyes to convey emotions and this film is no exception. The rest of the cast is equally wonderful, including Hugh O’Conor as the boyhood Brown, Ray McAnally as his gruff father and Brenda Fricker in an Oscar winning turn as Christy’s loving mother. Fricker in particular plays her role perfectly, especially one scene where, after hearing Christy struggling to speak with his speech therapist, laments on how much hope there is in his voice. Filled with fear that her son will never be normal, pain at the thought of losing him to a more independent life and worry that he will be ultimately let down in his goal to communicate, the scene is heartrending and deservedly Oscar winning.
Modern day fans of Daniel Day Lewis, take heed. Better yet, take a rainy afternoon, rent yourself the following films in this order and make a day of it. Watch A Room With A View, In the Name of the Father and the movie I just reviewed and take notice. Pay attention to how Lewis, given the proper direction, can generate that intensity and power he’s known for without the need to overwhelm the actors he’s paired up with. With excellent direction, heartfelt acting and a story that makes you think, My Left Foot is a triumphant film that makes you feel not pity or sadness but joy at the successes of this modern day marvel. Not only a star making role for Daniel Day Lewis but a landmark movie for the Irish film industry as a whole, My Left Foot is a powerful story of not only overcoming physical obstacles, of besting the traps and trips that reside within us all.
Score – 90%