By Neal Pais Daily Arts Writer
With his casting as Irish painter Christy Brown in 1989’s “My Left Foot,” Daniel Day-Lewis gained his first entry into movie stardom. The biopic follows Brown’s combats with cerebral palsy from his days as a young boy to his rise to fame. Although the film did not wind up with the award for Best Picture, Day-Lewis’ performance was nothing short of superb. Seen in other quality roles in “In the Name of the Father” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” his talent remains undisputed.
Indicative of his commitment to personality immersion, Day-Lewis remained in a wheelchair between takes; the actor also insisted on rolling his own cigarettes and using Brown’s vernacular for the duration of shooting. Day-Lewis is ferocious in his role as the poverty-born hero. Paying homage to the resilience of the human spirit, Director Jim Sheridan beautifully portrays Brown’s fight against his own body, as well as his low standing in Ireland’s rigid class system.
The film is largely carried by Brown’s triumph over cerebral palsy when he learns to make use of his left foot. He quickly rises past his physical setback, taking up painting and becoming a celebrated figure within the Irish art community. The vivacity with which Brown goes on to live his life is inspiring to say the least. Day-Lewis shines in presenting Brown’s optimistic treatment of his affliction and a society unable to grasp the enormity of his handicap. Brenda Fricker also has an excellent performance as Brown’s devoted mother.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of “My Left Foot” is its laudable lack of sugar-coating, an element not even seen in this year’s “A Beautiful Mind.” Brown’s impoverished beginnings is seen fully, as is the painter’s subsequent bouts with heaving drinking. “My Left Foot” rises above all other stories of wheelchair-ridden brilliance because of its honesty; where many other films try an eschew portrayals of characters’ shortcomings, Sheridan’s gem embraces them.
In retrospect, it remains a travesty that “My Left Foot” did not receive the award for Best Picture. Few films come close to its poignancy or style; it is refreshing, emotional, lovable and intelligent. And it has given us one of the finest actors of the last decade.