Daniel Day-Lewis Month #1: There Will Be Blood, Lincoln

There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “There Will Be Blood” is one of the movies that marked not just the year when it was released, and that was 2007. but also possibly the last decade. It gave us an extraordinary story about money, obsession and the vilest human vices one can possibly conceive, and all that under the cover of a rather simple story of an aspiring entrepreneur who tries to get rich in the booming oil business at the beginning of 20th century. Besides great cinematography, there are two more reasons why this film became an instant classic. One of them is called Paul Dano, who made his breakthrough into Hollywood with the great portrayal of The Sunday Brothers, a performance that he has yet to surpass. The other reason is, of course, Daniel Day-Lewis, that great actor of our time, who gave us Daniel Plainview, one of the greatest movie characters of the decade. There are other characters in this film too, portrayed by Kevin J. O’Connor and Dillon Freasier among others, but what really makes this film works in spite of its slight setbacks is the chemistry between Day-Lewis and Dano, a pair which presents a relationship that starts as a good business investment, but as the story evolves and characters get to know each other, gets darker and darker and take unexpected direction.

Lewis gives a performance of a man who is a perfect example of an everlasting human dream to get rich, and when he achieves that goal, he is a perfect example of everlasting human obsession to get even more rich. Everything he does is in the service of drilling oil and acquiring more material wealth; he even adopts a child only as a mascot, a mean to fulfill his unscrupulous schemes. Older admirers of the film will certainly recognize the role-model for Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance- he seems to grasp every movement and sound John Huston used to make. This might seem as an odd choice, but there lies a genius of great actors- to find an inspiration where no one else bothered to look.On the other hand, Dano’s character provides a fairly good counterpart to Daniel Plainview, but not in the way that he presents ultimate good- no, rather the opposite, his Eli Sunday matches Plainview in regard to his moral failure as a preacher whose sermons tend to enlighten everybody but himself. This film is often criticized for its lack of female roles and some unusual scenes, especially the ending. This might be true, but as it was already mentioned, performances of the leading duo leave any other role in the dust, so what does it matter? It is a good film, after all. And rare are the people who did not use at least once legendary quote: “I drink your milkshake”.

Lincoln

Biopics are often regarded as Oscar-baits and movies that do not have the same value as other features. This is partly true- just how many soppy, over-simplified displays of life struggles of some important historical figure have you seen? The answer is probably too many. Making a good biography movie is a difficult task since you have to reduce an entire life to the length of two hours, because nowadays the audience is not interested in watching long, brooding films that stretch for 200 minutes. Where should you start? What defining moments of one’s life are you going to show? How to arrange them? Which actors have the ability to depict these moments truthfully? This were probably the questions Steven Spielberg had to tackle while making “Lincoln”. His task was so much harder since he happened to make a movie about one of the most beloved American history figures, if not the most beloved, a symbol of a nation, the captain. So how did he answer them? Easy, it seems. He devised a story based on the biography of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the greatest experts out there when it comes to the life of the presidents. This movie is not cradle-to-grave depiction; it rather concentrates on the most important years of Lincoln’s life which include The Civil War and struggles to make 13th Amendment pass through the legislature. And which actor did Spielberg pick? Well, Daniel Day-Lewis, of course. Possibly the greatest actor of a generation, Day-Lewis slips into the role, nay, the personality of Abraham Lincoln, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. His Lincoln is not Honest Abe, the symbol, two-dimensional hero, but a man with ups and downs who uses trickery and bribe in order to do good and pass one of the most important judiciary acts in the history of mankind. In this task, Lincoln is not alone- he is helped by Thaddeus Stevens, superbly played by Tommy Lee Jones, a liberal who seems to be much ahead of his time, and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, portrayed by always reliable Sally Field. Lincoln is helped by these two people, and Spielberg is helped by an excellent adapted screenplay and Janusz Kaminski, that great cinematographer, also responsible for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”. He succeeds in giving us a feel of 19th century America better than anybody else could, as it seems. Spielberg is often accused of being too manipulative, and sometimes that is the truth. In this case, he gives other directors an education of how a biographic movie has to be made. And Daniel Day-Lewis gives his younger colleagues a lesson in how to revive somebody without unnecessary gimmick and pretentiousness. It is not surprising that this role brought him his third Oscar and a place in the history.

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