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Tom Gliatto Headshot

The Method of Daniel Day-Lewis

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Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood surprised me. His
performance is just as impressive as all the buildup promised,
yes -- a bold, mesmerizing performance -- but the thing is it's a
highly actorly, highly theatrical performance, dominated by an
assumed voice that comes rolling out in the seductive but stately
modulation of a robber baron or a corporate chairman or, as many
have noted, John Huston. The voice exists almost apart from Day-Lewis:
You could queue it up like an old record on a vintage gramophone
and broadcast it out into the desert. For all the talk about Day-Lewis
going beyond mere acting to create an entire original person,
he doesn't inhabit this oil man, Plainview, so much as he constructs him,
raises him up on the landscape plank by plank: Tall and steep-angled,
with his emotions--his primal few emotions--forcefully channeled up
and out, Plainview is a human oil rig. This isn't DeNiro in Raging Bull or
even Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. It's rough-hewn artifice and, in a way,
as mannered as Day-Lewis's turn as a sweet young Edwardian prig in
A Room With a View. His performance works perfectly in Blood because
the movie, which is superb, isn't strictly naturalistic, either: It's a
booming, cold, angry parable about the American character and American
greed -- these things may or may not be identical -- and its violence is
thunkingly loud and jarring. At times it feels as strange as a hybrid of
Days of Heaven and Punch-Drunk Love. The crazy ending, which
comes loping in like a rabid dog, is certainly going to have audiences
talking and debating, and they'll also be trying to figure out
Day-Lewis's performance in these last few scenes, where the tone is
tragic-farcical: He's like Jack Nicholson in The Shining with
better diction. There will be ham.