My Left Foot: Special Edition Jim Sheridan

Though I somehow remember being under-whelmed by this art-house smash when it opened in 1989, a decade-and-a-half later I find myself eating my words. The subject is Irish writer/artist Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), who had to overcome not only his cerebral palsy but grinding poverty and a belligerent father (Ray McAnally). Brown was written off as feeble-minded as a child until he began scratching out words with the titular appendage, and developed a crush on his teacher and speech therapist that ended in tears and suicide. You initially expect standard message movie hand-wringing but it somehow never arrives; you expect Day-Lewis's performance to be just a stunt but it's clear he's playing a character and not just the disease. And though Jim Sheridan's direction is plain and unadorned, it's not without its subtleties and never lapses into schlock melodrama. There are however a few conceptual quibbles that keep it from greatness: one can fault the production team for not hiring an actor with CP, and for centring more on the human interest story than on Brown's actual achievements. But Day-Lewis sells the deal magnificently with a powerhouse performance and Brenda Fricker earned her Oscar as Brown's stoic and determined mother. And there's no denying the profound respect the filmmakers have for their subject and their grasp of the nature of his struggle, moving it far beyond the standard "inspirational" biopic slop. Extras include a tribute to Christy Brown that sadly fails to mention his work; a "making of" featurette that notes Harvey Weinstein's role in the film's success; a still gallery; and a selection of reviews, including Pauline Kael's insane rave that manages to overstate the film's considerable worth. (Buena Vista)