Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot
Updated on July 16, 2008, 1:04 AM - Written by Tim Buttner
Writing a review about the performance given by Daniel Day-Lewis in the superb 1989 movie My Left Foot is a pleasure derived from the fact that it was a brilliant performance that earned him his well deserved first Oscar. From the opening shot the dedication that Daniel Day-Lewis put into the role is instantaneously obvious because it shows his physical command of this crippled character that is only capable of using his left foot, and may I say that Lewis uses his foot superbly. From there he only continues to captivate with the contortion of his body to make us believe that he does suffer from cerebral palsy and when he finally delivers his first line we make out of the guttural sound that he's managed to convey words through it as if he really did suffer from this disease. Having come off of Eversmile, New Jersey where Lewis portrayed a dentist traveling to South America this doesn't seem like the same actor.
According to those who worked on the movie Lewis refused to come out of character while on set in between takes, and it pays off. Having gone to actual clinics to witness nurses working with cerebral palsy patients every day for six weeks, and hired a disabled painter how to teach him to paint and hold a brush, the serious actor immersed himself on such a level that when his agent visited and he refused to come out of character his agent left. When seen on screen his dedication brings tears to your eyes as he delivers again and again. He kicks a soccer ball from a laying position on the ground to get a goal, he insights and gets involved in bar fights, he types, paints, and puts a record on all with his left foot. Brilliant.
The earliest age that Daniel Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown is age 17, and Lewis did this role at 31, a far cry from 17 but he manages to convince because of his brilliant dedication and a sharp contrast from the bearded Christy at a later age with his hair and make-up team making him look the age. As he progresses through the various ages of Christy and leads the narrative with Christy's progression into an inspirational artist, poet, and writer Lewis manages to layer his many stages with distinct and different performances. At one point in the story he manages to shock us with the character's temper tantrum at the news that a woman he loves is getting married and soon attempts suicide, and it is a riveting and painful performance. The level of versatility leaves one gasping and fixated.
Casting of Lewis was crucial to this movie because of his dedication. He broke two ribs while filming because of being hunched in the wheelchair for weeks and never complained, and it inspired the cast and crew. Like the man he was portraying no one had any problems helping him by carrying him to move him from place to place, or feeding him because like the character he was a caring and loving man. When it was shown to audiences in Dublin at the local cinema Harvey Weinstein saw it and said at the end that come the Oscar this film would be there, that's how obviously brilliant Lewis's work was, and a testament to the rest of the cast because his co-star Brenda Fricker, who portray Christy's mother, also won Best-Supporting Actress. When the presence of such talent is felt the art of performance is uplifting.
On the stage an actor depends on his co-stars and Lewis demands the finest performances from the cast portraying his family members. In a scene where Christy's hard working father (Ray McAnally), who's got a lot of mouths to feed and has recently been laid off for "accidentally on purpose hitting his foreman on the head with a brick", is threatening to beat one of Christy's siblings who isn't eating the porridge because they had it before Lewis delivers a joke that is hard to distinguish in Christy's early stage of communication, but he makes it audibly clear that it's not what the mother interprets for the father as "The porridge is lovely." His cast members aren't just on the same page with Lewis because it's in the script but because Lewis was in character at all times to make them understand that what he was saying was the joke, "Who's been eating my porridge?" and the second, "Bust his brain, the barbarian." so they successfully manage to stay in the moment as members of his elite family and so they can laugh that the father doesn't understand because they know the audience also doesn't.
The performance flows with the character arc and after he learns how to speak clearer so that not only his father understands him but also the audience as well. Christy falls for the Doctor who helps him and Lewis handles this with the care and sensitivity appropriate considering this was a real person. It is because this person did exist and he wrote his autobiographical book that Lewis was capable of getting into his head and when the character writes his autobiography that he receives money for his poor family that's lost it's father after he builds with the brother's an extra room for Christy. It's the autobiography that takes us to the framing scenes of the movie where Lewis has developed a relationship with a woman caring for him and reading his autobiography before he's honored. When Lewis goes into a desperate plea for her love at the end we feel with her the desire to love him despite his handicap and we feel for the real person who's life we've gotten to know through the magic of Lewis's performance.
The triumph of Christy Brown's life and the triumph of the Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal both are inspiring and premiered Lewis as a top performer. He has gone on to have an astounding career winning a second Oscar for The Will Be Blood as well as another 2 two nominations.
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