Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Greatest Living Actor

To extend my streak of seeing movies with central themes revolving around deserts and ruthless men, I saw There Will Be Blood last night (okay, two in a row is not much of a streak--the other being No Country For Old Men--but the similarities were worth noting).

Apart from having seen a pretty outstanding movie, I came away from There Will Be Blood with the certainty that Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor. I had suspected this after his portrayal of Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Gangs Of New York, but now I'm sure that he's at the top of the profession. His dedication to staying in character even when the camera isn't rolling is borderline crazy¹ but it definitely pays off because he's always really convincing. And the fact that he only makes a movie every two years or so keeps the quality of his work elevated.

A huge part of his impressive portrayals is always his accents. He has a knack for finding these über-regional accents that are ambiguous yet quite distinct. He doesn't really do many interviews so I'm not even sure if I know what his real accent sounds like but I suspect it's something resembling Irish. So when he does a peculiar American accent, he's that much more remarkable. He also always seems to have a different build to his body for his characters, as if he has a kit of interchangeable torsos and limbs that he picks through and rebuilds himself like a human Mr. Potato Head.

My respect for Daniel Day-Lewis is noteworthy for I'm usually not one to overtly praise actors because I believe they already garner a bit too much reverence from the public. I mean, most actors are basically animatrons that are given words and actions to act out by writers, told how, when and where to act by directors and made better looking by hair and makeup people and costume designers.

For the most part, actors have surprisingly little to offer other than a face and the ability to remember lines. In a way, they're not much different from the monkeys they sometimes share the screen with, in that they're only as good as their handlers.

We have to keep this in mind when the writers' strike seems to be keeping us from enjoying new episodes of our favorite shows. Without them, Steve Carell is probably only as funny as Evan Almighty (although he was a writer for the Daily Show so he can probably hold his own; I just wanted to make a cheap Evan Almighty joke). So, Hollywood, let's pay the writers accordingly for their contributions.

Oh yeah, before I forget:

There was blood, but not that much.

¹He insisted on staying in character 24/7 when he played a severely paralyzed man in My Left Foot by having the crew of the film push him around the set in a wheelchair. When filming The Last Of The Mohicans he lived off the land and carried a rifle everywhere he went. When he played a boxer in, huh, The Boxer he trained for 2 YEARS(!!!) as, huh, a boxer. He apprenticed under a butcher for Gangs Of New York and refused treatment for pneumonia because it was not in keeping with the period. Needless to say, the dude is serious about method acting. I'd hate to see what he would have done had he been cast as Hannibal Lecter.

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