Daniel Day-Lewis plays the villainous Bill, who has everything a villain needs, a fitting name, with a nick name, fairly well dressed in his own way, or at least very particularly dressed, a glass eye, an arsenal of sharp knives, with a fitting profession, as well as a distinct accent and voice, but one should not forget his mustache, which makes him look like the type of guy who ties damsels in distress to a train track.
There really is no bones about it he is a villain to be a villain, and that is the way Day-Lewis portrays it. He never really tries to act like Bill is not a villain. He is and he plays it like Bill knows it himself considering the way he takes such glee with his villainy. Much of what this performance is in Day-Lewis' unique character creation of the Butcher.
Day-Lewis effectively makes the Butcher into a memorable villain with the glee he takes in his villainy. Also just through the way he talks, stands, and walks. Everything is attuned by Day-Lewis a very individualized man from this period. Although I do not really think the real Butcher was quite this flamboyant, what Day-Lewis does do is make the character seem of the period in his own way.
This certainly is an actory performance by Day-Lewis with his voice, and his mannerisms, but as much as it is an actory performance, I did always see the Butcher as a character in the film, and not just Day-Lewis doing his big acting. This is not a subtle performance, for the most part, but Day-Lewis' method does work in creating an effective villain for the film. He is easy to hate, but also he manages to be entertaining in his villainy.
I said this is not a subtle performance for the most part but there is one scene where Day-Lewis attempts to show even more behind the butcher with his long talk to DiCaprio's character at night. Day-Lewis is indeed terrific in this scene, a scene where he is not yelling, or making some sort of threatening look in someway, but instead tells about a little bit behind the Butcher's philosophy, which Day-Lewis gives the right earnestness as well as regret to show that the Butcher certainly believes in his own ways very deeply.
I do believe this is a good performance particularly the context of the film as you can feel like he would be a figure in an old painting of New York. I feel despite the flamboyant nature of the performance he does not ever go so far like say the Milk Shake scene in There Will be Blood where his acting because much much too obvious. This is a fine villainous turn by Day-Lewis, he is threatening well being entertaining in his own sick way. He is a very strong villain and manages to almost pilot the picture forward over the true leading man who leaves something to be desired.