Blu-ray Review: My Left Foot

By , Contributor
The Oscar-winning My Left Foot arrives on Blu-ray via Lionsgate, offering a great opportunity to discover the story of Irish writer and artist Christy Brown. Daniel Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for this 1989 biopic, convincingly portraying not only Brown’s physical disability (cerebral palsy) but also the artist’s unpredictable temperament. On the surface it might seem like Day-Lewis received accolades primarily for mimicking the physical effects of Brown’s condition, but the strength in his performance comes from something deeper than pure technique. He taps into the frustrations of a man with a great deal to express, yet who is imprisoned in a body that refuses to cooperate.

As inspirational dramas about overcoming adversity go, director Jim Sheridan’s restraint serves as a model, even 25 years later. He frames the story around a gala fundraiser for which Brown is the guest of honor. Here he meets his future wife, Mary Carr (Ruth MCabe), but we never learn much about the woman who chooses Brown as her partner. This is probably a good thing, seeing as there are varying opinions about Carr and her treatment of her husband. Neither Christy Brown or Mary Carr are alive today to offer their own account, but disturbing allegations made by associates have surfaced in the years since Brown’s 1981 passing (he choked to death while eating dinner one night). Sheridan (and co-screenwriter Shane Connaughton) chose to present Christy and Mary’s coupling as a hopeful new beginning. Whatever happened after isn’t part of this story.

Ultimately one of the greatest impressions left is made by the obvious love shared amongst the Brown family, particularly matriarch Bridget (Brenda Fricker, also an Oscar winner for this). Fricker conveys Bridget’s undying support for and belief in her son. Christy’s dad Paddy (Ray McAnally, deserving of Oscar love too, though not even nominated) is initially disappointed and somewhat ashamed of his son, believing him to be of low intelligence. Special props are due to Hugh O’Conor, who portrays Christy as an adolescent. His key scene involves proving to his parents and many siblings that Christy is, in fact, highly intelligent. O’Conor’s work is somewhat overlooked by the star-making turn by Day-Lewis, but the young actor perfectly captures Christy’s desperate need for respect.

The dark side of My Left Foot is the by all accounts accurate portrayal of Christy as an unapologetic booze fiend. His thirst for alcohol goes unchecked and devolves into unacknowledged alcoholism. Even as he earns the respect of the artistic community—not as a “disabled artist” but as a great artist, period—Christy’s intense loneliness brought on by a lack of romantic companionship drives him to drown his apparently good nature in liquor. In some of the disc’s special features, real-life friends of Christy’s warmly reminisce about his ability to put away the hard stuff. But clearly the excessively-consumed alcohol had a damaging effect. Brown lived in a time and culture where such addiction wasn’t readily recognized as a illness that needs treatment.

Lionsgate offers a solid My Left Foot Blu-ray presentation that boasts a decent transfer and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. Special features have all been ported over from a previous DVD release. There’s a brief featurette about the real Christy Brown (four minutes), a promotionally-oriented ‘making-of’ called “An Inspirational Story” (ten minutes), a photo gallery, and some reprinted original reviews. The package also includes a digital copy. A note about the cover art: an out-of-character shot of Daniel Day-Lewis is featured, apparently a misguided attempt to downplay the film’s “disability” aspects. It’s a cop-out (not the first time the film has been packaged this way) and should’ve been replaced with a more appropriate image of Day-Lewis in-character. Of course, don't let that stop you from seeing this great movie.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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