6. The Age Of Innocence (1993) Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese making a ‘G’ rated film. Who would have ever thought?!? In this elegant and beautifully restrained adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel, set in Nineteenth Century New York high society.
Day-Lewis plays Newland Archer, a successful lawyer torn between love for a Russian immigrant (Michelle Pfieffer) and her more established cousin (Winona Ryder).
A beautifully observed drama about the mentally violent games that we play with each other, this saw Day-Lewis concentrate more on the mental anguish and change rather than the physicality for which he had become known.
5. Gangs Of New York (2002) Directed by Martin Scorsese
While a bit wayward in its narrative, one thing Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs Of New York” gets dead on is its character and casting of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. Personified by Day-Lewis, who became a proficient butcher as part of his preparation, this man is pure evil and menace personified.
In an almost Shakespearean twist, it is Cutting that is responsible for the death of the father of the main character, Napoleon Vallon (Leonardo Di Caprio). Through the course of the story, these two circle each other, leading to a ferocious and ultimately violent battle of wills.
Epic in scope and yet never losing focus on its characters, “Gangs Of New York” sees Day-Lewis in total command. Even the scenes in which he isn’t present have this sense of dread and menace to this, such is the way his character permeates the rest of the film.
4. The Last Of The Mohicans (1992) Directed by Michael Mann
Seriously bulking up and apparently living off the land for some time during pre-production period, Michael Mann’s “The Last Of The Mohicans” is an intelligent and muscular take on the classic story.
A searing, brutal and beautiful take on the James Fenimore Cooper novel, this shows a decent man in what was an indecent time, trying to protect the daughter of a British officer amidst the French/Indian war in the early days of what we now know as America.
Day-Lewis is a standout in what is a strong and bold work. “The Last Of The Mohicans” is a great illustration of the chameleon-like quality of this actor. It beggars belief that it’s the same man from “My Left Boot” completely embodying a proto-action hero in this classic adventure story.
3. In The Name Of The Father (1993) Directed by Jim Sheridan
Working once again with Jim Sheridan, his “My Left Foot” director, this is a blistering, lacerating and immensely powerful drama based on a true story. At the height of “The Troubles” in Ireland, a pub in England was bombed, The Guilford. With a British government baying for blood, four Irish nationals, innocent of the crime, were charged, convicted and jailed.
They became known as the Guilford Four.
Day-Lewis plays Gerry Conlon, a man who was unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. “In The Name Of The Father” is remarkable in the way that it traces Conlon from being a juvenile delinquent to becoming a man, standing up against the injustice that has been thrust upon him.
A key to how powerful this transformation is lies in the volatile relationship that Gerry has with his father Guiseppe, also in prison with his son. A heart wrenching performance from the late Peter Postlethwaite, this relationship truly is the beating heart of the film. Angry, passionate and hard to forget, “In The Name Of The Father” is a truly unforgettable work.
2. My Left Foot (1989) Directed by Jim Sheridan
In this soaring, emotionally stunning biopic of author and painter Christy Brown, born a quadriplegic with severe cerebral palsy and, physically, only the use of his left foot, this is an absolute textbook example of how to do a story where one triumphs over adversity.
Much of the success of “My Left Foot” goes back to the performance of Day-Lewis. One forgets the technical aspects almost immediately of his acting, swept up in this physically broken man trying to find a way to express his talents and humanity in a world where many have written him off as a vegetable.
If you’ve never seen a film with Daniel Day-Lewis and are wondering what all the fuss is about, this is Exhibit A. Pure and simple. An exceptional film and lead performance.
1. There Will Be Blood (2007) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Detailing the life of oil baron Daniel Plainview, this is absolute prime rib cinema. Director Paul Thomas Anderson, developing his style and signature significantly from his earlier films such as “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”, creates a modern classic in “There Will Be Blood”.
At the heart of this extraordinary film is Day-Lewis. Playing a man whose empathy, compassion and basic humanity disappear right before our eyes as the narrative tells its tale, the man is nothing less than utterly magnetic on screen.
With piercing eyes and a voice that could stop your blood cold (apparently based upon legendary film director John Huston), Day-Lewis is nothing short of electrifying.
Two scenes stand out in particular. The first is when he abandons his son at the railway station. Secondly, and most famously, is the very long and utterly compelling final sequence. It is nothing short of an acting master class on the part of Day-Lewis.
“There Will Be Blood”, loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!”, is an absolutely magnificent film and one of the finest of the 2000s. I don’t think it would have been half the film it is without Day-Lewis.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.