THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE written and directed by Rebecca Miller, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Camilla Belle and Catherine Keener. 112 minutes. An Odeon release. Opens Friday (April 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Berlin, Germany - This tall, wiry guy walks into a room at the Ritz-Carlton like he's wandered away from the rest of the Irish Rovers. He's got a big tam-o'-shanter cocked on his head, and his face is obscured by a sprouting bush of beard. It's practically crawling into his eye sockets.
"Hallo, I'm Daniel," he says. "Don't get up."
You wouldn't think Daniel Day-Lewis would have to introduce himself, but, then, it's hard to tell who's in back of that salt-and-pepper thicket. It's not for a role, he insists. "I'm just lazy."
Lazy's not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Day-Lewis. This is the man who taught himself to live like a hunter for Last Of The Mohicans and confined himself to a wheelchair for his Oscar-winning performance in My Left Foot. For Gangs Of New York he learned to handle blades so well that he could probably clean and gut us all with that Ritz-Carlton butter knife.
Today it's a gentler role he's talking about. The Ballad Of Jack And Rose follows a father and daughter as they stumble from the cloister of an American commune. While he claims the preparation wasn't arduous, he had early training for it.
"I lived in communal situations for quite a long time," he says, stroking his beard. "I was in boarding school, for Christ's sake.
"At an early stage in your life you're forced to pitch in life-and-soul with a group of people you don't necessarily have anything in common with. Twenty-four-hour-a-day lock-up."
Between his thumb and forefinger, he has a tattoo of the Holy Trinity. "It's from a boxing club in Belfast," he says. He also admits to having belonged to the tribe of Millwall soccer fans.
And yet, he points out, it's his wife, Rebecca Miller, who wrote and directed the film, who's the real joiner.
"We're ideally suited, Rebecca and I, to tell this story because she could be a communard," he suggests. "I'm not so sure about myself."
In fact, it sounds like acting is the only thing that keeps Day-Lewis social. It's a testament to how much importance he and Miller place on this film that they came to Berlin to promote it only six days after the death of Miller's father, playwright Arthur Miller. Typically, Day-Lewis doesn't get out much.
"That part of me that might withdraw from society is consistently drawn back by my fascination with other humans," he admits. "Luckily, there's some kind of a balance there."
For this film, what fascinated him was his character's extreme idealism.
"I think idealism is dangerous from the outset," he says. "But life without it would be pretty threadbare. You have to play with that balance between faith and despair. You have to keep recalibrating that play within yourself between the tendency toward believing in something and the tendency toward recognizing the hopelessness of that pursuit.
"Idealism without doubt is what's dangerous," he says, as if defining a philosophy. "Idealism in itself is the food of life."
THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE (Rebecca Miller) Rating: NNN
The Ballad Of Jack And Rose marks a rare return of the semi-retired Daniel Day-Lewis, but, then, this film is written and directed by his wife, so she had an in. He plays a father who's raised his teenage daughter in a dwindling island commune. Knowing he won't be around forever, he invites his girlfriend (Catherine Keener) and her sons onto the island. From that point on, paradise is lost. Day-Lewis gives a typically strong, detailed performance, but it's nowhere near as juicy as his Butcher in Gangs Of New York. And Miller lets far too many searching monologues stand in place of drama. As the daughter, Camilla Belle captures the hormonal force of a teenage girl thrust out of Eden.