Daniel Day-Lewis’ 10 Best Performances: ‘There Will be Blood’ to ‘Lincoln’

Daniel Day-Lewis Best movies



5. Gangs of New York (2002)

Gangs of New York isn’t one of Martin Scorsese’s best, but deserves a watch for Daniel Day-Lewis’ exciting, over-the-top performance as Bill the Butcher. The film was loosely based on Herbert Asbury’s 1927 non-fiction book of the same name. Like Silence (2016), this too was a passion project for Scorsese, who first conceived the idea for the film in 1978. However, the final output was eschewed of complexities and came off as a simple revenge drama. The greatness of Day-Lewis’ performance obviously overshadows some of the narrative’s flaws.

In fact, his preparation to play Bill the Butcher was considered to be the maddest, ranking  alongside My Left Foot. He trained as a butcher and wandered around Rome (the film was shot there) in a 19th century threadbare coat. To stay in character he fought strangers and subsequently caught pneumonia. All these quests for perfection brought glorious results on screen. His body language and cold hard stares are lessons on how to approach a villain character. Daniel Day-Lewis makes Bill the Butcher both charming as well as frightening.


4. In the Name of the Father (1993)

“Of living actors, I feel it’s only him (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Meryl Streep who have that quality; like they’ve made some Faustian pact with the devil and truly become the person they’re playing,” said the English actor Paul Bettany in a Guardian article recalling his experience of watching Day-Lewis play Gerry Conlon. Jim Sheridan’s hard-hitting drama revolves around wrongly convicted small-time criminal Gerry Conlon, sentenced to life in prison. Conlon’s forced confession is one of the most memorable moments in the film. A group of well-dressed British officers gang up on Conlon, asking him to take the rap for IRA pub bombing of 1974. His emotions simultaneously waver between rage, sorrow, and fear, and the switch between each emotion is so elegant.

The ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998 is addressed by the title ‘The Troubles’. In the Name of the Father was one of the complex cinematic portrayals of this turbulent era. It also doubles up as an understated examination of love between a father and son.


3. My Left Foot (1989)

Jim Sheridan’s uplifting biopic is about Irish writer Christy Brown, afflicted by cerebral palsy. Paralyzed from birth, Brown learned to write and draw using the toes of left foot. Daniel Day-Lewis meticulously prepared himself to fully inhabit Brown’s personality. Brown lived with his 12 siblings in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in Dublin. Day-Lewis spent a lot of time with Brown’s brothers and sisters to accurately portray him (Brown passed away in 1981 at 49). Here’s what Christy’s younger sister Ann had to say about the actor’s dedication. “I remember walking into the canteen and someone was feeding him the same way we used to feed Christy and I found that really upsetting because it was like looking at my brother. I’d to get up and leave; I was overcome with emotion because he played him so well.”

One of my favorite scenes unfolds when Christy feels humiliation over Dr. Eileen’s insistence on platonic love. Dr. Eileen has helped Christy with his speech. But the anguish and anger passes through Christy’s face when he realizes Eileen’s nature of love. He heart-breakingly says “I’ve had nothing but platonic love all my life. Do you know what I say? Fuck Plato! Fuck all love that is not 100 percent commitment!” Day-Lewis expresses distress and pain while perfectly staying in character. This performance faced its share of criticisms and some tittered at his method-acting approach. Nevertheless, no other actor could even dream of bringing such craftsmanship to acting.


2. Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln wanted to portray the intricate character nature of one of the legendary historical figures. Spielberg didn’t want to mythicize Mr. Lincoln. In other words, he wanted a Lincoln of blood and flesh. The illustrious American President was well known for his integrity. The film celebrates this integrity by addressing all the complications and dilemmas within him. Hence, Daniel Day-Lewis becomes the perfect choice to offer a humanistic portrayal of Lincoln. With a slightly hunched back stature and a face marked with wrinkles, Day-Lewis humanizes the otherwise noble figure and precisely showcases a life, strained by incessant personal loss and political conflicts.

In the hands of a lesser actor, the film could’ve easily turned melodramatic. The brilliance of Day-Lewis’ Lincoln lied in the way he efficiently grounds his character. As usual, he dwells deep into his character’s consciousness and is gradually reborn as another man with a distinct accent and voice. My favorite moment in the film is his impassioned speech, citing the significance of constitution.


1. There Will be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood is an epic character study of oil baron anti-hero Daniel Plainview. ‘Voice is the fingerprint of the soul’, Daniel Day-Lewis said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Daniel Plainview’s character was first born after Day-Lewis nailing the perfect voice for him. He used oral histories from the time to create the character’s distinctive voice. An important influence for the voice is said to be the old recordings of renowned director John Huston. After the birth of the booming voice, the actor’s eyes played a significant role. The eyes were rarely laced with tenderness, but predominantly blazed like the burning oil, acutely expressing greed and rage. The actor took a whole year to get ready for the role and it’s pretty evident in his incendiary performance.

They say that ‘with power comes responsibility’. For Daniel Plainview ‘power drives him avaricious and mad’. This loss of humility and descent into insanity is magnificently displayed through Day-Lewis’ versatile range of emotions. The climactic scene where Plainview taunts his archenemy Eli Sunday, a corrupted priest, is unforgettable. The eerie, over-the-top declaration ‘I Drink Your Milkshake’ is one of the most extraordinary moments in Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting career.

By Arun Kumar 

Recommended: Tom Hanks’ 15 Best Performances of All Time


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *