Fri 25 Jan 2008
Yes, yes … My left foot has been healed by the Lord.
Here’s the thing about Paul Thomas Anderson. I don’t like his films. I thought “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” were overrated and I found a sweetness in “Punch-Drunk Love” that helped me enjoy it although I still found the film too warped and strange for its own sake, rather than as something natural.
That being said, I have to give the man his due for making a pretty good film in “There Will Be Blood”. Based on the Upton Sinclair novel, “Oil!”, the film depicts the career and life of an oilman, played by Daniel Day Lewis.
I suppose getting a great performance out of Lewis is sort of like getting wet in the rain, so I’m not sure how much I credit Anderson with helping out on this aspect. Still, even a great actor can look foolish with a poor script and that’s something Anderson got right – for the most part.
I’ve never read the source material so I can’t speak to the screenplay’s faithfulness but there were many instances of clever dialogue that gave just enough information to the audience to keep Lewis’ character in the shadows for much of the film and keep us wanting more to be revealed.
For you plot-fanatics, there isn’t much plot to the film really; It’s about Lewis’ ambition to strike oil and profit his own way, never doing things the way others tell him it should be done. He speaks plainly and he means what he says – as long as he’s not scheming to possess the next big oil field.
Lewis’ performance is unremarkably excellent. He keeps a tension to his character at all times, making any emotional or physical outbursts all the more striking. As he has done in many of his films, his character exudes an intelligence that tiptoes the line between genius and madman. There is a strength to him that warns everyone else around to steer clear or be run over by his will.
Providing the foil to his character is Paul Dano as a, shall we say, enthusiastic preacher; full of fire, brimstone and the conniving spirit of ten televangelists. Dano usually takes the backseat in films, barely registering on-screen though doing solid work. Here, he raises his profile way up and there is no missing his character’s manipulations and, for lack of a better term, conviction. Whereas Lewis is clearly the bright star in the film’s night sky, it is Dano that twinkles nearby giving the audience something to use as contrast and comparison.
So, as I’ve mentioned, the acting and the dialogue are the high points for “There Will Be Blood”. The score, number of years the plot attempts to describe and the actual running time of the film are the pitfalls.
I’ll start with the most annoying aspect, the score (done by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood). From the first note, you can tell that the music is going to weigh heavily on the film, crashing against the images and action on-screen like the cruise ship in “Speed 2″ as it comes ashore (sure, the metaphor is weak but I was trying to think of a film that was as bad as the score … and there we have it). The audience is constantly removed from the film by jarring string compositions that are more likely to be found in a horror film than a drama. All this and I do like Radiohead … apparently it’s not so much for Greenwood’s influence.
Then there’s the gall to attempt and follow Lewis’ character for so long in his life. It’s not that it isn’t interesting, it’s that while getting to where the film was going, Anderson spent the lions’ share of the film centered on one particular town / oil dig. From the resolution of that story arc to the next point in the film is a hefty length of time within the characters’ lives, all gone like the blink of an eye.
This runs into the last sticking point, that of the over 2 and a half hour run time. I’m okay with longer films, as they attempt to broaden the scope of the story … but if you’re just going to skip ten or fifteen years, don’t make me feel like the film took that long in the process. There are some good reasons for Anderson to be methodical, allowing the characters and scenery to seep into the audience’s psyche. However, there should also have been some consideration towards keeping the film at a decent pace and not glossing over a sizable chunk of their lives.
I know that there are many PTA fans out there crying, “He’s an amazing talent! How dare you speak ill of our film God?”. To you, I bite my thumb and also capitulate that he has succeeded in crafting a good film here. I credit the film’s success to the strength of the acting and good production value more than anything else, however I will give Anderson his due in giving the characters some great lines to deliver.
As such, I’ll be generous and tip “There Will Be Blood” a 4 out of 5. If you’re a Daniel Day Lewis fan, this is a definitely a film to watch. Otherwise, you could certainly do worse but I’m not so sure this is must-see material. This falls into the top fifteen films of the year … It’s just so sad I only list the top ten … so sad.