Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Verdict: Good enough
There Will Be Blood is a strange beast. This incredibly different, hulking brute of a film invokes the not-nearly-common-enough tradition of the horror western such as Cormac McCarthey’s Blood Meridian, (interesting as the Coen’s McCarthey adaptation No Country for Old Men was shooting not far away, and actually had to halt production because of smoke caused by one set piece of this production). In the end it’s not really a western or a horror although you could class it as both, but what it does very well is invoke genre to build atmosphere and character.
There Will Be Blood is frequently cited as a character study of the clinically sociopathic Daniel Plainview, but it is so much more than that. It is a dense, rich, reaction to our current political climate, and in the 10 or so years since it’s release it’s not lost relavance especially with the current political soup we find ourselves in. Some people have taken against the religious criticism in this film but I find that’s all part of the political allegory and doesn’t necessarily mean the film is condemning religion in general.
The film follows Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, (Lincoln, In the Name of the Father), in his quest to pump oil anywhere and everywhere he can find and make fat wads of cash in the process. He encounters problems in the form of Paul Dano, (Little Miss Sunshine, Swiss Army Man, Love & Mercy ), who plays a priest, and one of the many themes of the film is that he is just as corrupt, just as interested in money, power, and respect as Plainview.
It took me a while to get into this film, this was my fourth watch of it, and in the end the first one where it really clicked for me. The film is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), who’s films seem like rich soups for you to get lost in, and I’m not the first to say that. Maybe that’s why I love Inherent Vice so much, it is undoubtedly the most, soupy. There Will Be Blood seems less like a rich soup but more like a dense fudge cake. I think that’s why it takes a few watched because it is long, it is dense and it requires you to be really engaged.
There’s a lot to just sit back and enjoy though if you find the film too, fudgy. It’s filled with a brace of great performances, Day-Lewis and Dano are two actors who I have an aweful lot of time for, I am actually a huge fan of Dano. Both their performances seem strangely theatrical, but that is I think because they are both acting, all the time, and not the actors, the characters. It’s only in the final act of this film where Day-Lewis doesn’t seem extraordinarily arch, because he’s reached this Citizen Kane point where he no longer needs to pretend and he takes on this animistic form, this great force of nature of rage and bile who’s built up his “hatred piece by piece over the years”. That final scene is great and big and explosive and now actually iconic because it is brilliant. The whole film plays like this great symphony that ends on a huge blow of horns.
There is also some fantastic, Oscar winning cinematography from Robert Elswitt who is one of the premier cinematographers going at the moment. It’s shot on 35mm and you occasionally get these lens flares but not in a J.J. Abrams, (Super 8, Star Trek), way, it’s in this way that is really obvious and striking and reminds of the fact you’re watching and film and it’s really perverse but works really well. The fact it’s shot on 35mm is a fantastic call because the whole film has this sense of rich history, the period detail is extraordinary, and the fact it’s shot on 35mm actually makes you feel like you’re watching a really good old movie. The score by Johnny Greenwood has a sense of old classical scores that aren’t quite musical but are entirely written for tone, but it written with this sense of perverse musicality that he demonstrated so well with Radiohead, and it does work really well despite constantly wrong footing you.
There are crash-bang-whallop set peices for those who seek them in this film, and it is fantastically gripping despite, for the most part, consisting of people sitting in rooms talking about acquiring and moving oil. I once had an idea for adapting Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, where it would be befitting of tone to make the blood seem almost black. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have had a better idea of replacing it with oil, blood of the earth. (FYI that’s not literal, when there is blood it’s red and shocking and all caught in camera in long takes which I rather like and does invoke horror cinema). It is too long though I think, there’s a whole subplot with his brother which serves it’s purpose but it is too slow and it’s much less interesting than the rest of the film and it’s the only part of the film where not ever scene is serving some sort of narrative purpose. In the end I don’t think it’s my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie, or even the second best, but it certainly his most ambitious, and it is perfectly directed.