Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Riske Business: Daniel Day-Lewis is Overrated
Townspeople, I am not saying I dislike him as an actor or as a person (in interviews he seems genuine, interesting and humble to a fault), but I roll my eyes at people trying to convince me he’s “the greatest living actor."
Hear me out.
If you like to watch a performance strictly for technique, then DDL is your guy. You will never get any argument from me about his beat work, mannerisms, ability to bury himself into a character, etc. For these reasons, I respect him as an actor.
My criticism of Daniel Day-Lewis is inarguable: he leaves me cold. As an audience member, I never identify with any of his characters. I see him working, and it’s distracting. Is he terrifying in Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood? Absolutely. But that’s just one note, and I’m very aware that he is ACTING. It keeps me at a distance and I can’t settle into the story.
Ever notice that Daniel Day-Lewis is so larger-than-life in his performance style that he seems outside of the movie? I see that all the time. He’s always acting AT people and never WITH them. How many scenes are there in Lincoln where Day-Lewis is talking and everything stops? People just sit there and stare at him as if they have no idea how to act or react with an actor so far up his own ass. As stupid as this might sound, he’s too in-character. Everyone else in the movie is historical while still feeling modern.
Tommy Lee Jones is terrific in that movie. In his scenes with DDL, he not just survives -- he shows me that he is the better actor. I liked Lincoln well enough, but it’s a stuffy movie and only comes to life when Tommy Lee Jones is on screen. TLJ has a gruff persona, like Bruce Willis is a tough guy and Will Ferrell is a man child. These personas are very valuable to an actor. Day-Lewis does not have a persona or vibe to his performances. I’ve never seen such disconnect between an actor in interviews and the performances he gives in movies. It’s creepy, like watching someone give a speech talking about how exciting something is while their expression looks like they’re bored out of their minds. Call Tommy Lee Jones a grouchy asshole, but you have to acknowledge he at least seems to have blood pumping through his veins in Lincoln. I’d argue Day-Lewis does not.
Back to the “greatest living actor” debate. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (of whom I am a fan, but do not list among my favorite actors) is also known for his technique. However, Hoffman’s performances also have heart, even in something as cryptic as The Master. Boom! Hoffman is a better actor than Day-Lewis. Leet’s move on.
So what is Daniel Day-Lewis to me?
He’s the greatest actor of synthetic performances. It’s not Andy Serkis (who I’m hoping calls himself 'The Circus,' at least to Peter Jackson). Day-Lewis’ Lincoln feels to me about as lifelike as Gollum, or a wind-up toy, or that gorilla that plays the keyboard in The Rock-A-Fire Explosion. He’s man as animatronic. He’s Haley Joel Osment’s adult counterpart in A.I. He’s Gigolo Joe. The fact that Robert Zemeckis never plopped him in a mo-cap movie is one of cinema’s greatest missed opportunities.
If I put on my Doc Hollywood scrubs, I would tell Daniel Day-Lewis to act in something beneath him. Of course he’s going to crush something like Lincoln. That’s boring. He should have accepted the part he was offered as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. I want to see the dude act in a Transformers movie and elevate that. Why not be a villain in a Bond movie like Javier Bardem? Day-Lewis has proven he can play a drama chord, but why not riff a little bit? Who are you trying to impress anymore, Craft Man? Naomi Watts? James Lipton? If you want to get the Actor’s Studio in a tizzy, just light a cigarette. They’ll lose their minds. It’s a foregone conclusion that Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor for Lincoln. This makes me unhappy. Try talking about Day-Lewis in Lincoln and the conversation stops usually before it starts. It goes “Can we all just agree that he’s amazing?” The end. I enjoy talking about performances, dammit, and DDL is taking all of that pleasure out of the Best Actor race. It’s like, "He’s going to win, so why even bother mentioning the rest of them?" It’s so aggravating.
Bradley Cooper showed a likeability and emotional depth I never knew he had in Silver Linings Playbook. Denzel Washington is an actor without a net in Flight (just when you’re about to be pro-Denzel, he snorts a line of coke in front of your face to say "Now what do you think of me?"). Speaking of without a net, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master! My goodness. Now that guy is buried in a character and it’s a miracle of performance and you still sympathize with him. Last and least, Hugh Jackman sings in Les Miserables and that’s brave?????!!!!*
Thanks for reading, and I encourage comments on why you feel that I am wrong. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind. I used to like '80s and '90s DDL, but anything from Gangs of New York onward drives me crazy.
*Real quick: actors should not get nominations just because they sing in a movie and don’t suck at it. It’s my second least favorite trend going right now after "This book was said to be un-filmable." It obviously was not, because you made a movie out of it.