“This is simply one of those truly remarkable movies that everyone should see, if not for the story, than for Day-Lewis’s brilliant performance” – Daulton Dickey
Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Alison Whelan, Hugh O’Connor
Although the premise of “My Left Foot,” a biopic about Christy Brown, a Dubliner afflicted with cerebral palsy from birth who overcomes his illness to become a famous author and painter, may trigger a few alarms in those who deplore sentimental movies about men and women who overcome unspeakable odds to inspire people, its willingness to avoid sentiment and manipulative moments saves this film from being another run of the mill biography.
Complications arose during birth and Christy Brown became trapped in a body that jerked and convulsed and fought against his every impulse and desire. His left foot was the only appendage in a mangled bag of contorted flesh that he could thoroughly control, but his appearance and inability to speak distanced him from his father, a brutish Irish man who drank hard and worked harder. His father, Paddy, saw him as nothing more than a lame moron, and, to an extent, disowned him.
The film is told in flashbacks, structured around a gala at a rich man’s house while Christy, on the eve of the publication of his autobiography, waits in a library with a nurse, a woman whom he’d later marry, who picks up his book and begins to read it.
The first act of “My Left Foot” stars Hugh O’Connor as the young Christy. Having seen Day-Lewis’s Christy in incremental footage before we see the long O’Connor section, we immediately have a sense of what young Christy will grow into, and as a result of this fascinating approach to the structure, we feel no reason to pity him. He is merely a tenacious child struggling to overcome his handicap and to perform deeds that others his age take for granted.
The film focuses on the relationship between Christy and his mother, played brilliantly by Brenda Fricker, who would go on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in this film. Christy’s “Mam” provides a stark contrast to his father. While Paddy takes Christy at face value, assuming that the boy is a crippled, mute dummy, his Mam sees what no one else does: that the child’s eyes are fierce and alive and communicate an ability to overcome his disabilities.
The performances here are extraordinary. Fricker plays the mother as a caring provider who treats Christy no differently than she treats her other children. She knows there is more to her son than what meets the eye and yet she never grows frustrated at his lack of progress, nor does she coddle him and protect him from the outside world. This is a woman who was born to be a caring mother and goes out of her way to give the attention that each of her kids—of which there are many—need. And Fricker, a sweet Irish lady, peppers the role with pathos that few actresses would have been able to pull off. This could have been a role milked for the tragedy inherent in a character—and a movie—such as this, but Fricker has no desires to win awards. She exudes love and patience and creates a character that we grow to care about as much as we do with Christy.
As young Christy, Hugh O’Connor, like Day-Lewis, manages to get inside the head and twisted body of this sufferer of cerebral palsy. There is not an instant in which we are not tricked by his performance, never a moment in which we watch this film and say, that’s a child acting like he suffers from this disease. He relays Christy’s fire and determination through his bright eyes while he struggles to move and grunts to speak.
But the real star of this movie is Daniel Day-Lewis. In what is easily one of the best onscreen performances in the past twenty years, Day-Lewis embodies the older Christ so thoroughly, adds such tenacity, determination, even arrogance to his layered performance that one simply forgets one is watching an actor playing a role. Everything has already been said about Daniel Day-Lewis and his performance in “My Left Foot,” so I will refrain from repeating 16 years worth of praise, but I can say with confidence and conviction that this is not only one of the best performance from the last 20 years, but one of the all-time great performances in the history of cinema. It is on par with DeNiro as Jake LaMotta, Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “On The Waterfront,” Takashi Shimura in “Ikiru,” or Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” This is a shining example of a wildly talented actor who embodies a character so thoroughly that the line between fiction and reality is permanently erased.
With subtle direction from Jim Sheridan, “My Left Foot” never suffers moments of crass sentimentality. It is a film intent on showing Christy, warts and all, rather than manipulating its audience into falling for mush that most movies such as this exudes. There are times when this movie even self-consciously avoids sentiment, such as a particularly bleak scene in which Christy, dejected and heartbroken, attempts suicide.
In the end, “My Left Foot” is an inspiring film not meant to inspire. It is raw and honest, and in its honesty it inspires its audience to care. This is simply one of those truly remarkable movies that everyone should see, if not for the story, than for Day-Lewis’s brilliant performance.
Reviewer : Daulton Dickey