There Will Be (another viewing)

by sbh on Saturday - 26 January 2008

in Reviews

There Will Be Blood

Today, Natalie and I saw “__There Will Be Blood__”:, a “P.T. Anderson”: directed morality play for the 21st century. The film pits all the wonderful intensity of a “Daniel Day-Lewis”: performance against the odd realities of early oil prospecting and zealous religious fanatics in turn-of-the-century western United States.

I freely admit that when the credits began to roll at the end, I had no idea how I felt about it. I knew this much: Daniel Day-Lewis must be the best actor of our time. In spite of certain issues with the plot (like the lack of one, really), my eyes remained glued to the screen because of his amazing performance. Day-Lewis has a knack for melting right into his role, delivering performances that feel so real that even when they are over-the-top (and his character, Daniel Plainview, is definitely over-the-top, as was Bill the Butcher from “__Gangs of New York__”: you believe him–even to the point of forgetting that he is an actor at all.

Praise for Daniel Day-Lewis aside, I’m not sure how I liked the film. Cinematography was dramatic and wonderful–good stuff. All technical aspects of the film were great–editing, the score (by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), art direction, costumes, etc. The issue here is story.

The film is based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel __Oil!__, which I admit I have not read. All accounts seem to indicate that __There Will Be Blood__ is only inspired by Sinclair’s work which appears to be more about the relationship between a father and a son. While this theme is certainly important throughout __There Will Be Blood__ (and played to dramatic effect), the real theme is corruption, greed, power, and money, and how these cripple, torture, and torment the soul. Unfortunately, I feel that the film makes too many great leaps in time to really see this corruption played out. It would be better to see it happen gradually, but this is not at all how the film moves.

Do I like __There Will Be Blood__? Not sure. I’m going to have to see it again. Natalie has already said that she’d rather not, but I have the unmistakable feeling that I missed something. The movie did not wow me like “__No Country For Old Men__”:, which left me slightly stunned and breathless at the end. This, perhaps, is where the two are different. At the end of __No Country For Old Men__ I felt like I’d “gotten it”–it was clear to me what Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers were trying to say. Further, it was an idea and message that rang true to me. For __There Will Be Blood__ I feel as if I’m missing something. The encoded message that I received was not new or original.

So, I’ll have to see it again, which isn’t all bad. As I’ve said, Daniel Day-Lewis is positively amazing. I found myself putting on my Daniel Plainview voice after the movie and performing his lines as we drove home. Truly memorable. P.T. Anderson shows himself more than capable with this type of subject matter that is, at least on the surface, more “normal” than his previous works (“__Punch-Drunk Love__”:, “__Magnolia__”:, and “__Boogie Nights__”: are the three P.T. Anderson films that come to mind).

On an entirely different note, __There Will Be Blood__ made me think about writing. As I was watching the movie, I had one of those experiences where I felt like I could have written it (not entirely good since some of the story choices bother me). I wanted to rewrite the story of Daniel Plainview and his son, H.W. Plainview. Even the small town preacher, Eli Sunday, excited me from a character standpoint. These were people who made unpredictable choices. Yet, these choices, even when surprising, seemed in-character or reasonable. Sometimes, characters need to do something a little outrageous to get noticed. Sometimes, characters act in brash and unexpected ways. I know that I have fallen into a trap where I have psychologized certain characters into little boxes where I can dictate how they think, feel, and act and it’s all predictable. It would be better to psychologize them into corners and see how they fight their way out.

In the end, __There Will Be Blood__ is recommended for the incredible acting and wonderful character work alone. Is it a great movie? I’m not sure. Is it a great study? I think so.

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