Saturday, 19 January 2013

Best Actor 2012: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Oscar from his fifth Oscar nomination for portraying president Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln.

Lincoln is a very good film about Lincoln's struggle to pass the 13th amendment. It is not perfect, several scenes could have been taken out easily, but it is definitely an effective piece.

With the likely hood of Daniel Day-Lewis winning his third Oscar being quite high I feel I should address the idea of him breaking the record of two lead Oscars held by Day-Lewis, Spencer Tracy, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, Marlon Brando, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Nicholson. I have heard saying Day-Lewis is not worthy of breaking the record, well lets actually look at it the way it should be looked at which is the performances each one for. Tracy, Hanks, and Penn gave fairly unimpressive performances for both their wins. Gary Cooper won for one fine performance and one bad one. Nicholson won for one great performance and one where he coasted on his screen persona.

Dustin Hoffman and Fredric March won one for a good performance and an okay performance although Hoffman took what should have been Gene Hackman's second lead Oscar, and Fredric March took away what should have been either Laurence Olivier's or James Stewart's second Oscar. The only two actors who really gave two impressive and deserving performances are Marlon Brando who won for one incredible performance, and one very good performance, and Daniel Day-Lewis. Daniel Day-Lewis deserved both of his wins which could not be more different. One for his amazing turn as Christy Brown in My Left Foot as a physically disabled man with a great mind, and the other an ambitious turn as a greedy oil man in There Will Be Blood.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the only one of two actors to have deserved both his wins, and since he Brando had his "I don't give an expletive" for more or less after Last Tango in Paris, I for one think Day-Lewis is more than worthy of breaking the record (although Laurence Olivier obviously should hold the record with at least four but what can you do). Day-Lewis is particularly worthy though in again he takes on a wildly different role than his Oscar winning performances this time as Abraham Lincoln often described as the greatest man to ever have held that office. Lincoln has been portrayed before by many different actors, Raymond Massey was in fact nominated for portraying Lincoln back in the 40's.

Day-Lewis, like Massey, is not American born and both actors adopt an accent for the role. Massey was unusual sounding, as is Day-Lewis's. There is a key difference though which is Massey still in all the speeches in his film speaks loudly in a brazen manner, something that Day-Lewis never does. Day-Lewis's accent he uses here is just flawless. It tells us where Lincoln is coming from and it is fascinating the way he commands attention with his voice without just about never speaking in a commanding fashion. It is a masterstroke of acting by Day-Lewis here as it just sets up his character so well just from his first scene where he quietly talks to a couple of soldiers. Day-Lewis makes Lincoln as a man who pulls you in without ever forcing you in.

One of the main aspects of Day-Lewis's performance here is warmth. Day-Lewis plays a lot of different characters but not many of them would one describe them as a warm fellow. Even when he plays a positive character warm is not the first thing that would come to mind. Day-Lewis here though is incredible the way he shows such a different side of his abilities through his performance as Lincoln. Day-Lewis like his accent brings it to the part so effortlessly in his portrayal. Day-Lewis beautifully realizes this quality so well, something lacking in Massey's portrayal, that honestly works as well as it possibly could in showing why Lincoln would be so popular not only to the populace but to those around him as well.

Day-Lewis does everything he can to establish just that loving quality in Lincoln, and how easy it is to pay attention to him even though he is not trying to force you to. Day-Lewis really is giving it all not only through his voice, his welcoming facial expressions and even his physical manner. The way Lincoln sits or stands so unassumingly as well as the way he holds people's hands. Day-Lewis just welcomes basically all here as Lincoln, and he creates the man one would imagine he would be. Some of the other Lincoln portrays seem almost inhuman due to the way Day-Lewis so brilliantly makes Lincoln an actual man, but an actual man with such a special and unique manner that makes him such an easy man to like.

Day-Lewis gets so much out of his style he takes with performance, and because of Day-Lewis I loved every moment in which he spoke to anyone in his unique style. Day-Lewis works it in so well and how his personality allows him to maneuver through his many difficult situations as president. Day-Lewis tells each of Lincoln stories so beautifully as a seasoned story teller who entrances the uninitiated even if it frustrates those who have heard just one too many story. Day-Lewis gets across two things in these moments partially that is a strategy from Lincoln to diffuse situations and get his points across, but as well is entirely in earnest there is not the slightest hint of falseness in his method.

In every aspect of Lincoln's abilities to sway those he needs to sway Day-Lewis absolutely nails it. He never tries to make him a forceful man pursing against others staying most of the film intensely quiet in his performance. He makes it work all so well  he adjusts magnificently from one situation to another and is absolutely convincing in doing this throughout the film. Day-Lewis is just perfect the way he conveys the intelligence of Lincoln through the slightest glances and reactions. They are always small very subtle and amazing the way he brings to life the more calculating aspects of his mind that is very much required for Lincoln to be an effective president.

Even when Lincoln is more confrontational like when he meets with the confederate delegation, or when he speaks to radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) Day-Lewis still underplays it to great effect. Day-Lewis is impeccable the way he able to make Lincoln almost seem somewhat besides himself at times during these scenes that would make the potentially troublesome situation already lose much of their tension. At the very same time though he always portrays that Lincoln is never thought of as a fool, and that his manner still very much always get right down to the point of the issue at the same time. Day-Lewis makes Lincoln a quick efficient political operative all the while still being very pleasant about it all. 

Due to the way Day-Lewis stays so reserved for most of these scenes it makes it far more powerful when Lincoln finally does raise his voice in one pivotal scene where he finally speaks out loudly showing how much disgust he has over slavery, but as well as the inane politics involved with getting it passed. Day-Lewis is excellent to it and entirely earns the moment by showing firstly that Lincoln only does it here do to the urgency of the situation, but as well he builds to it in a terrific fashion as he hears the complains around him till he finally squishes all of them in a instant by finally putting out exactly how he feels about what is going on around. It is a spectacular moment, and Day-Lewis delivers completely in the moment.

Of course his character does not stop even there, and there is another whole aspect to his portrayal of Lincoln though only deepens his characterization. Although this indeed a performance filled with life in his portrayal of Lincoln, Day-Lewis nevertheless portrays an underlying feelings of melancholy due to having to suffer through the losses of the civil war as well as the death of his own son. Day-Lewis is spectacular the way he can so well infuses this as simply the state of Lincoln as man due to his life. It is not that he is always depressed, but instead Day-Lewis properly portrays it is being something deep within his bones that he cannot escape from.

In his moments with Lincon's living sons Day-Lewis is so good in the way, without ever really even emphasizing it, that his relationship with them is very much haunted by his deceased sons. Day-Lewis shows the fatherly love and guidance well, but there is an unmistakable sadness in him that seems to reflect the idea that there that his sons constantly remind him of his losses, as well as the possibility that he could even lose more before the end of his life. It is amazing the way he can have Lincoln be an entirely warm friendly character who at the very same time being a very sad man without one ever over taking the other, as well as always making it entirely believable that he would function in this way.

This grief also clearly is shown to affect his relationship with his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field). The two together are excellent in creating the long marriage between the two where there has been too many hardships. The love seems for the most part to be long gone, and there is a coldness in their scenes together that both actors are effective by showing it comes from their mutual pains shared. At the same time though they do have a familiarity that does show they do understand it each other well.

Day-Lewis is good here because besides a few small moments of tenderness, which are well place, he shows with her are harsher side to Lincoln. Day-Lewis is particularly great in their scene where they fight over their son's decision to join the army. In the scene Day-Lewis is excellent in creating Lincoln's honest exhaustion, and bitterness brought on by his wife's descent into insanity, and shows that even a man as patient as Lincoln has a breaking point. It is a terrific moment that properly humanizes Lincoln making him to be a great man, but still a man.

This simply is phenomenal work by Daniel Day-Lewis. With a figure who sometimes is taken as such a larger than life man Day-Lewis not only finds the down to earth humanity of the man, but as well still creates his Lincoln as such a man that would lead many to see him in such a glorious manner. This is a outstanding achievement by Daniel Day-Lewis as he has such an assured approach that absolutely creates Abraham Lincoln so vividly in a way many other actors were not able to do. Day-Lewis succeeds in every aspect of the man creating a complex portrait of the president, that is something wonderful to behold.

23 comments:

mrripley said...

A fine review,explaining exactly why he is worth the 3rd,i think people expected bluff n thunder and what they got was restraint and comedy,i agree on him and Field i know she's 20 yrs younger than Mary Todd was and 10 yrs older than Day Lewis but she absolutley nails it esp the scene before the ball,though her fight with Lincoln will make a gr8 oscar clip,shame she has 2 as i feel she would be tough to beat even with undeserving Anne breathing down her neck.

Lezlie said...

I agree with every word you wrote. I couldn't help but grin like an idiot as I read along. It was an excellent review, I must say. An excellent review of an excellent performance, I was a bit afraid after seeing the first trailer and hearing his voice, I feared he would go overboard with this performance. Oh boy, I couldn't have been more wrong, thank God :D I absolutely love Daniel Day-Lewis, I might even say that he is my favourite actor, and will probably stay in the top 3 at least forever. I really want to see him on the 24th of February walking up on that stage, set to a standing ovation, and delivering a modest and classy acceptance speech, like he had before. Sorry about my childish enthusiasm, but for me, he's the ultimate actor :)
Again, great review!

P.S. I saw the other day you revised your 2004 actor roundup, and switched Leo and Don Cheadle. I just realized at that moment that there are many performances that year that would be great to read your thoughts on, like Bruno Ganz, Paul Giamatti etc. At least, I hope you could review one of my previous requests, Javier Bardem (just saw Argo the other night, shame Javier was snubbed in favour of Arkin). Looks like I wrote a second blog here again :D Signing off now :P

RatedRStar said...

I enjoyed Day Lewis obviously lol loved his speech at the globes 2.

As for 2004, it is a pretty terrible year for oscars (most of the films nominated sucked) but the foreign films were great, with excellent work like Javier Bardem, Bruno Ganz and Gael Garcia Bernal.

RatedRStar said...

along with Giamatti, it would make an interesting year with 3 foreign language performances =D (ps, Gael Garcia was better in Bad Education than the Motorcycle Diaries) lol

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

This is the most un-Daniel Day-Lewisy performance he's given since The Age of Innocence. A remarkable example of how presence can truly define a great performance.

My 2004 choice is Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine. I swear, how the hell he gets me to tear up like that in every viewing, I'll never know.

joe burns said...

I need to see him again because I was underwhlemed, but I'll look for more things in him for sure. Sometimes, subtle performances can underwhelm because I'm not aware that it will be a subtle performance. It just takes a little bit different of a mindset :).

I'm sure he'll be your winner....

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. A masterful work, and he completely deserves his third win.

mrripley said...

What does everyone think about about Sally.

Derek Bowman said...

As someone who isn't a huge DDL fan, I was floored by this perf. He's got such a quiet strength in this film, and somehow makes his Lincoln feel unique yet familiar. Just fantastic work.

Anonymous said...

How would you rank this performance in comparison to Day-Lewis's other nominated performances? Every one of them is so good...

-Mark

Louis Morgan said...

Mark: I like all of them. I think I would rank this second only behind My Left Foot. This performance is really sitting well with me though so that could change.

dinasztie said...

Well, I'm not sure how I feel about him. I'll rewatch him ASAP and will say more about him. :)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Would it be blasphemy if I said My Left Foot is my least favorite of Daniel Day-Lewis's nominated performances?

Lezlie said...

koook160: No :D It's not my favourite either, though I love it dearly.

I just saw Louis, you've done some revising - with Daniel Day-Lewis now winning 2007 over Viggo.
Also, I would like to ask you something. I know you like Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston, but what do you think about the rest of the cast?

RatedRStar said...

Ive also noticed 2004 being changed with Cheadle beating DiCaprio now.

Louis Morgan said...

Lezlie: I assume you mean the rest of Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul is incredible just about equal to Cranston. Giancarlo Esposito made one of the most memorable villains in any medium. Jonathan Banks was also fantastic as a more down to earth villain of sorts. Bob Odenkirk is the best kind of comic relief, as he is funny but completely fitting. Dean Norris is also very good.

In regards to the changes in winners: I decided I should reexamine my close calls, and some of my winners changed.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Lezlie: Y'see, that's the thing. I... don't really care for him or My Left Foot in general.

mrripley said...

And Sally anyone???

Michael Patison said...

I personally think DDL is the best male actor of his generation, and possibly of both genders. As for his Oscar-nominated performances, I've seen all but In the Name of the Father, but I'd rank the others as follows:
1. My Left Foot (5)-This performance, while not my favorite ever (I think that still goes to George Sanders in All About Eve), is probably what I would consider to be the single best that I have ever seen. He just so utterly inhabits his character without ever seeming forced or over-the-top.
2. Lincoln (5)
3. There Will Be Blood (4.5 or 5, but probably 5)
4. Gangs of New York (4.5 or 5, but probably 4.5)

Anonymous said...

Great , but I think the Oscar will go somebody else do to not wanting to give him .

RatedRStar said...

im very biased obviously towards Claude Rains being the best so =D.

Groggy Dundee said...

Marvelous assessment. I was skeptical of Lincoln but it turned out to be a genuinely great film - no stentorian biopic but a complex, witty and sophisticated view of 19th Century politics. Great cast, excellent writing, commendable attention paid to the monumental legal and political challenges facing Lincoln during the Civil War. I daresay it's one of Hollywood's smartest movies about politics.

Day-Lewis naturally anchors the film; unlike Fonda and Massey, who granted are excellent, he makes Lincoln an approachable person rather than a mere icon. It's a remarkable turn that captures most sides of this intricate man: his personal grief, political skill and moral determination, along with his sense of folksiness and bizarre humor. Thoroughly deserving of an Oscar.

As for breaking records, that's something I couldn't care less about. If a performance deserves an Oscar it desrves an Oscar.

dshultz said...

I'm glad to see the near universal support for Day-Lewis' turn as Abraham Lincoln here, continuing a nice trend of seeing it with almost everyone else I've spoken to about it.

Anyways. In every book regarding Lincoln I've ever read, ranging from Team of Rivals to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I've always imagined him more or less exactly the way Mr. Day-Lewis portrayed him. He gets my vote for sure.