Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Birthday Take: Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (2007)

Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Daniel Day Lewis
Born: April 29, 1957 (58 years old)
Nomination: Best Actor - There Will Be Blood (won) as Daniel Plainview

The Take

If one were to describe the best acting of the 21st century, among the male spectrum would somewhere be Daniel Day Lewis. While he isn't the most prolific, he is one of the more captivating to both watch and read about. He is a method actor to his core and has been known to act mentally as if he was said character during the entire shooting of his movies. He is arguably too intense, but his results speak for themselves. He is a chameleon who almost showboats his performances just to prove how much harder he works than everyone else. He is an event actor for those that think that today's actors are amateurish.

In a career with unprecedented highs, There Will Be Blood remains his masterstroke. Alongside the equally ambitious director Paul Thomas Anderson at his critical peak, they produced a movie that explored family, commerce and religion in ways that not only created a modern classic, but made something full of memorable moments. It is an epic about an oil tycoon who gives it all away to have every last drop. From the opening scene in which Lewis is seen being baptized in oil for the first time, and without dialogue for a long stretch of time. It sets the eerie mood and slowly reveals the birth of an insane and fully fleshed out villain for our times. Daniel Plainview is a man with ambition, and he'll con you out of every last penny.

While there have been dozens of memorable performances, there's something special to Lewis' portrayal. For starters, he feels lived in. From the accent to his small mannerisms, he feels like a salesman at his worst. He also physically moves with vitriol and is unapologetic in his violent tendencies. He is called upon to show a range of emotions, and he delivers on them all. He rarely disappoints and is able to often convey multiple emotional symbolism at the same time. In a story so complex and only adapted from a small excerpt of Upton Sinclair's "Oil!," he manages to make the conflicted male unlike anyone else. Even the harshest of scenes, including the death of his brother, are played with so little remorse that Plainview feels like he was filmed just walking around and not an actor making deliberate decisions, or lack of.

The most noteworthy scene is of course the one saved for last. In which he loses everything, Plainview is confronted by the town priest, who tries to get his sympathies. However, he unveils his greedy plan and even assaults the priest with bowling pins. With a small comical touch, he delivers the pop culture moment of the film and does so with enough charisma to outshine every other actor for years around the film. He is visceral and powerful in his line delivery. He is precise and menacing in ways that can get uncomfortable. It is the sign of what acting can be if done with dedication. He aptly won for his role as a result.

Was it too showy? Yes. However, that was the point of the character. He was selling something to rob you of something else. Lewis would go on to win another Oscar for his role in Lincoln, which is a direct opposite of There Will Be Blood. He was tranquilized and immobile in ways that Plainview would struggle to achieve. While I have a longstanding conflict with Lincoln, I cannot find much fault with Lewis as an actor, who time and again finds a reason to make us care about those long waits in between projects. He is a man who immerses you in his performance and oddly enough doesn't feel in real life anything like you'd expect. With that said, it is unlikely that the general consensus will agree on an actor who's as dedicated and magnetic as Lewis this decade. There may be some more ambitious, but few will be as consistently different. That is a big reason to recognize his work.

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