Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Movie Review: There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood (2007) 5/10
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oilman who will let nothing stop his drive towards success. He develops a lifelong adversity with a preacher (Paul Dano) who has enormous over a town where Plainview wishes to drill. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

This was me giving P.T. Anderson one last chance. I didn't like Boogie Nights, and I half-liked Magnolia (a beautiful mess if ever there was one), so this was Anderson's last hurrah for me. Critics have said things like There Will Be Blood is his "most realized work" or whatever. To me it felt, in many ways, less recognizably Anderson: less histrionic until the bizarre final scene, but also less populous.

Part of the problem with this movie is there are no people in it, and no life. No one is living a life. No one makes love, eats, weeps, interacts, plays. It is a one-man show with a second man add-on. Daniel Plainview exists in a vacuum, and nothing breaks in to show us why we care about watching him for endless hours (and dear Lady, does this movie go on forever or what?). Daniel’s son, H.W., is a cipher, then he's a deaf cipher; he's never really a little boy. Plainview gives an early speech about the importance of families, but we see no women except peripherally, and few children.

I was strangely unimpressed with Daniel Day Lewis. I realize there is something blasphemous about impugning his God-like Acting Talents, but his Daniel Plainview didn't draw me in. It was a less exciting performance than Gangs of New York, it was inhuman in its studied quality. Maybe that's the point. Who knows?

I was looking for some kind of statement, it all seemed like it should have been symbolic; Capitalism vs. Religion or something, but no one in the film cared about those symbols, and ultimately I felt the movie failed as a vehicle of communication. I was told that the book it is based on, Oil by Upton Sinclair, is more or less a screed on behalf of socialism. And fine, I can see Anderson wanting to change that, but he should have changed to something. The symbols here are left dangling, like leftovers in the symbolism clearance department.

The cinematography is much-praised, but it was a dark, smokey, bleak film, and not the beautiful bleakness of John Ford's Monument Valley. It felt like the landscape expressed the overall misery of Paul Sunday's (Dano) flock, of Plainview's life, of the movie itself.

Ultimately, it felt like wasted time. Now I know what "I drink your milkshake" means. So what?

(I drink your cross-post! I drink it up!)