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Daniel Day-Lewis

Blu-ray: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Age of Innocence’

The Age of Innocence (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)

Criterion Collection

The Age of Innocence (1993) is not the only costume drama or historical picture that Martin Scorsese made but it is his only classical literary adaptation from the filmmaker that, all these years later, we still remember for edgy violence and cinematic energy. But even from the director of The Last Temptation of ChristKundun, and Silence, this film stands out for its grace and nuance in its portrait of social intercourse as formal ritual.

Adapted from Edith Wharton’s novel by Jay Cocks and Scorsese and set in 19th century New York City, it stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland Archer, a respected lawyer and respectable member of elite society who is engaged to the beautiful young May (Winona Ryder) but falls in love with her cousin, the worldly Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). The American-born Ellen has spent the best years of her life in the social straightjacket of the European aristocracy and arrives home a stranger under the shadow of scandal, fleeing a bad marriage to a philandering European Count. At first Newland extends his friendship out of duty to May but soon finds Ellen’s honesty and insight refreshing and exciting. As he observes how his own society marks her as outcast he starts to see his own complicity in a social world just as petty and judgmental as the one Ellen has fled. That very complicity puts him at odds with his passions when he’s instructed to talk Ellen out of divorcing her husband and into returning to a loveless marriage to avoid tarnishing the family name. The same contract that he realizes he too will be entering.

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Review: Phantom Thread

The main character in Phantom Thread is a 1950s fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock, a meticulous craftsman and a godlike giant of his industry. Early in the film he prepares for the day’s work, and you know he’s enacting the same rituals he does every morning: the careful brushing of hair, the measured buttering of toast. It’s a terrific introduction to a character, but I suspect writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is also paying tribute to his leading man. The actor we’re watching is Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner who previously worked with Anderson on There Will Be Blood. Godlike in his own profession, Day-Lewis is famous for his pickiness and obsessive research. Woodcock’s fussiness must be partly a portrayal of this remarkable and very controlled actor.

If Phantom Thread is an excellent portrait of an artist, it is not a predictable or conventional one.

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The portraits of Daniel Day-Lewis

“I most enjoy the loss of self that can only be achieved through detailed understanding of another life — not by limping and growing a moustache.” — Daniel Day-Lewis.

Is there an actor who commits himself so completely to a role as Daniel Day-Lewis? A consummate method actor, he researches roles meticulously, learns the crafts of his characters (from boxer to butcher) in preparation for his performance and carries the role with him offscreen until production ends. For almost two decades, he has been the most commanding presence in his films.

That kind of dedication takes its toll. He takes long breaks between films to recharge with his family. His career has weathered rumors that he’d become a hermit (he is, in fact, quite private), that he’d quit acting to become a cobbler or a cabinet maker (he likes to work with his hands) and that he remains doggedly in character off the set. They are, at best, exaggerations of an approach that can appear obsessive. As he once explained: “I am intrigued by a life that seems very far removed from my own. And I have a sense of curiosity to discover that life and maybe change places with it for a while.”

Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’

Now he takes on one of the most revered American presidents for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. While he’ll surely be compared to the incarnations of Henry Fonda (in Young Mr. Lincoln) and Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois), his Lincoln will also be stacked up against his own cast of memorable characters. Here are ten of his most committed performances, and the stories behind the incarnations.

‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (1985) — Johnny

What began as a British television movie was transformed into a big screen landmark: a grungy yet dynamic portrait of race and prejudice in the London of East Indian immigrants and neo-Nazi gangs, a frank (and for its day explicit) portrayal of a gay romance on the screen and the film that made the name of director Stephen Frears. And, oh yes, the breakthrough performance of a searing young actor named Daniel Day-Lewis. Portraying a rough-and-tumble, street-smart gay punk, he underplays next to the portraits in ambition and power offered by Saeed Jaffrey and Gordon Warnecke, letting his scruffy character and rough honesty quietly radiate from his simmering presence.

That same year, he played a prissy upper-class twit in the elegant literary drama “A Room With a View,” a one-two punch of supporting performances that announced his versatility and earned him the Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics.

Reflections on a Role: “Everyone thought because I come from a polite way of life I couldn’t do that kind of part. So I sent director Stephen Frears a letter full of dirty language and expletives, hoping to shock him. I told him I’d break his legs if he didn’t cast me.”

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