Monday, January 14, 2008

There Will Be Blood

A bleak, depressing, at times achingly intense and uneasy movie going experience, There Will Be Blood is also a marvel of atmosphere and scope. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, in a fashion that's thrilling and completely different from his Altman-esque Southern California tales before, this is a movie. He has dared to make the great American movie (many critics in their more quote friendly reviews have dubbed it his Citizen Kane), and that daring has bequeathed an adult audience a challenging, relevant story about oil, greed, religion, even parenthood. Ready for this challenging, darkly rich tale (partially based on Upton Sinclair's Oil) is star Daniel Day-Lewis. An actor famous for his method in-character takes creates a theatrical cadence, a thick moustache, and a limp for oilman Daniel Plainview, but what makes his performance amazing is that while those actorly tics are there in view, he still makes this epic, grandiose film feel intimate and personal. The staggering brilliance of Day-Lewis (in a four year absence from film) is how he embodies this man, consumes him, breathes him. His acting, evident for a long time, is such a step above what accounts for movie acting most of the time, that his achievement here is what it must of felt like watching Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The film starts in 1898, and for the first ten minutes or so, we look at Plainview hacking away in a mine, consumed entirely by the prospect of finding the black stuff. There's no dialouge, just the man working while Jonny Greenwood's triumphant and possibly revolutionary musical score hammers alongs side him. Already I was hooked by this man, riveted by his ambition. We learn he has a son whose his partner named H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier-- natural and completely unafraid of the power of Day-Lewis), his wife we're told died during childbirth. They've become a small scaled success, as news comes out of possible riches in a small California nook. It here were Plainview butts heads with a rambunctous young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano-- allowed to speak here in a triumphant performance, startling in it's departure from his role in Little Miss Sunshine.) I'm inclined to stop talking plots points right here since so much of the narrative, I believe, relies on surprise. To reveal too much would likely take away from the lulling power and authority of the story.

Instead I'd like to write about the beauty of the film-- cinematograher Robert Elswit (he of Good Night, & Good Luck and Magnolia fame) has photographed an amazing widescreen affair. Shot by shot-- there's greatness snapped into every shot of There Will Be Blood. The soul in fact of the American west, in fact. The production of Jack Fisk underlines the startup and development of these tiny nooks of the American west, right when everything started to change, while we as a country were still in the era of Manifest Destiny. Mark Bridges' costume design is subtle but quite good in developing Plainview's financial gain (while stressing his moral decline.) And Dylan Tichenor's editing is flowing, but adroitly paced. The film is almost three hours long, but never feels long, and in hindsight-- if you could cut something, what would it be-- everythings seems so essential in presenting the relevance of the tale, and the masterful character study.

In a way there seems to be common link between There Will Be Blood and 2007's other mastery achievement, No Country For Old Men. Both are bleak and relentless in their directness. Both serve as astounding achievements for the provocative auteurs at the helm. The Coen Brothers and P.T. Anderson have concocted masterful films that remind and provoke and challenge. The questions both films confront aren't easy, or necessary pleasant in parts (there's a scene in Blood towards the end that's easily one of the most sadistic scenes in recent movie history-- and the power of it is derived from nothing more than Day-Lewis' voice), but both are revelant and blazing in their channeling of the American spirit in all it's disparaging ways. A

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