Friday, January 18, 2008

There Better Be Blood!

Been waiting for this one for what feels like forever! I'm a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan - I loved HARD EIGHT(which he would prefer to be called SYDNEY), BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE and consider them masterpieces, ignoring that most critics add the word "flawed" to that accolade.

The press has been tremendous (it seems to have opened everywhere but here in the last few months) but I've worked hard to ignore the banter and bickering from the film world blogosphere about this film by not reading reviews, interviews, or articles about said film until I could see it for myself. I succeeded and feel better for it - so here's my review: 

(Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

The very definition of an Epic with a capital E, Paul Thomas Anderson’s long awaited loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel "Oil!" is yet another 2007 release that lives up to its hype, and redefines the current cinematic landscape.

And when it comes to landscapes, the vistas that fill the frames of THERE WILL BE BLOOD engulf from the first shot – a Texas valley in 1898 aided by a jarring wall of cacophonous strings (courtesy of Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead) to the last shot of...oh wait no Spoliers! 

As oil magnate Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day Lewis owns the film – he’s in nearly every scene and though he seems to be doing an imitation of John Huston, has a sculpted manner that, as just about every critic is exclaiming, has Oscar written all over it. Plainview’s methods in the art of wheeling and dealing are mesmerizing as is his way with words (on acquisition of oil obviously) - “If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and I have a straw and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!” 

“Greed versus religion” is what I gather was the driving issue behind Sinclair’s book (which I really should read) and it comes alive in the person of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young preacher whose family's land becomes entangled in Plainview's conquest of the "ocean of oil" that he declares is his and more importantly - nobody else's. 

Dano practices a form of fire and brimstone evangelizing that Plainview, when first attending his church calls "one Goddamn Hell of a show." Dano plays twins - which can be confusing because it is the little-seen Paul who first appears and sells out the location of oil to Plainview. 

Plainview has a child (Dillon Freasier) who he more or less inherited as a son from a man who died in his employment. The boy, who Plainview names H.W., loses his hearing in yet another accident and Plainview admonishes Sunday for being unable to heal him. The clashing confrontations that mount as time moves on form the final acts; I must admit that in the 3rd act I felt that Anderson loses his way a bit but regains for a severely strong finish. 

The film is dedicated to Robert Altman, but it seems to my eyes to be heavily Kubrick-influenced. The opening sequence, a nearly 20 minute dialogue-free long-form montage in which we see Plainview starting from scratch, digging in fresh earth and slowly building his operation, has the operatic feel and flow from 2001, while the extended real-time pacing and gorgeous studied long shots throughout remind me of the fine tempered fabric of BARRY LYNDON

But Kubrick is only one of the masters in Anderson’s mosaic; I’ve seen comparisons to the grandeur of greed in CITIZEN KANE, the location (the West Texas town of Marfa) is the same as in the classic George Stevens/James Dean classic GIANT (also NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was filmed mostly there too), and the essence of THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE* is largely felt.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD, even with all those obvious inherited influences (or because of them) stands as an amazing achievement for a premiere American film maker and a film to cherish forever. 

This Epic-scale period movie on a less-than-Epic budget will bubble like the oil in the well before it bursts through Plainview’s derrick in cineaste’s psyches for a long time - regardless of whether or not it takes home the gold come Oscar night. 

* Reportedly while making TWBB Anderson put on his copy of THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE every night as he was going to sleep. I wonder what wife Maya Rudolph (SNL) thought about that.

More later...


Anonymous said...

I thought that it "almost" lived up to its hype. But there is something about the film - I cannot put my finger on it - that prevents me from regarding it as a "great" film.

I think that it is simply a pretty good film, featuring superb performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano.

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