There Will Be Blood (2007) (R)
I've resisted writing this review for a long time, but it has become inescapable. The reason I've shied away from the film is mainly because Paul Thomas Anderson fans are the scariest people in the world. He is one of the few directors whose fan base I'm completely convinced would kill someone...and no, that's not exaggeration. Seriously, people, take a chill pill.
As such, I find that I cannot properly give my points of view justice unless I spoil of little of the movie, so you are forewarned.
This review contains SPOIELRS!
The first time I saw "There Will Be Blood" I hated it, and I mean really hated it. It bored me to tears, I was fed up with the incessant dull pauses and the screaming that randomly overtook the screen. It was an ode that a man who wrote a piece of nonsense could make it into a movie and virtually every critic would hail it as a masterpiece. I detested it for its horrible stiltedness and I despised the following it had...I think I've made myself clear. Yet, even then, I knew I was being unfair...or at least, I assumed that I was. After all, if so many people like it, it couldn't be that bad, right?
So I gave it another chance and was surprised because I thought this review would have a completely different rating. The beginning of the film, once you get past a fairly awkward prologue, is actually quite stunning.
And then I was like...no, no, that's why I hate this movie.
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oil man, he's a man of few words, he's a man of many words. He's a contradiction. He is a lie.
The movie's opening which gives us an eerie, sunny country shot of the West pre-1900, sees Daniel Planview digging. He is searching for something, what could that be? Whatever his reasons for looking deep within the ground for a source of money, he stumbles across oil...and that is where he fate was sealed as an oil man.
Brooding and fateful, we get the idea from the screechy score that oil is bad. This is clumsily handed down to the viewer with such visual metaphors as a rope tied like a noose descending towards the pit or the oil seeping from the ground in such darkness that it's impossible to see if it is oil or blood.
While working on the oil, one man gets killed...ooh, didn't see that coming. If you couldn't tell, oil is bad. Daniel takes it upon himself, more as a test of himself to see if he can do it, to raise the dead man's child, which he names H. W. Plainview.
Cut to a few years later, after the turn of the century, Daniel is released to the dogs of oil drilling. He tries to sell his own services to find more land to drill, to get more money; but people go crazy when they have oil on their land.
Setting up several drills, Daniel turns himself into a very wealthy businessman; but it's still not enough. After another successful drill is started, Daniel is approached by a young man named Paul (Paul Dano) who claims that there is oil on his family's land. Not being a fool, Paul demands that there be payment for information, which he is given under the threat of delivery. Daniel makes it very clear that if the information he is given turns out to be false, he will make Paul suffer and we believe Daniel.
Mr. Plainview growls like an animal. He lets every word get stretched out longer than necessary. The vowel sounds turn to guttural, predatory noises in his throat. We are scared of him before we realize it.
Following up on the tip, Daniel finds himself at the Sunday ranch, where he will try to buy up the land that is literally leaking oil. When he's there, Daniel meets another boy named Eli (Paul Dano) and the audience pauses for a minute. So they're twins, okay, that's kind of stupid. The thing that we don't realize is that we can tell twins apart. It's not that hard. We can identify one with the other through character or physicality. When the same actor is playing both parts, it comes across as a little obvious and this doesn't work in a film so deadly serious as "There Will Be Oil"...oops.
After minor negotiations, Daniel starts to buy up all the land in the town...he's going to get filthy, stinking rich.
Long story short, the oil has a devastating impact on Daniel's person, family, and mental health. It turns him into a full fledged psychopath. "There Will Be Blood" cheerfully assumes that the viewer is okay with the notion of following an antihero...I usually am, but not with this piece. It's like "A Clockwork Orange" —Anderson takes a lot of his cues from Kubrick including the last shot that is similar to "The Shining" and the whole concept of the madness within—and I didn't like that movie either.
But here is where the movie gets really stupid—a church. Eli, the other twin, is a preacher and he wants the oil money to go in part to the Church of the Third Revelation. Daniel is not a religious man, so he's not okay with this, but he buttons his mouth, probably the only time we see him do this in the movie, and lets Eli carry out his semantics. I would argue that Eli has a split personality and that was Paul; but that's another day and another insanity.
Besides the idea of brotherhood, which is cemented further when Daniel's brother shows up, the movie suggests the sly notion that there is something evil about paternity. The only two fathers we really get a chance to see are Daniel and Mr. Sunday, both of whom are abusive. Then again, the film makes a whole lot of no sense about this time.
I think it's nearly an hour plus into the movie that it takes the turn I feared it would—the madness within becomes the madness without.
As the oil flows from the ground, the tempers start to rise and physical violence becomes the slapstick of the movie. In Anderson's need to scare the audience, he creates monstrous characters who are just caricatures of themselves. One scene follows Eli walking down the hill to Daniel who attacks him and rubs his face in the oily mud, making him bleed. The very next scene Eli attacks his father and tries to choke the man, screaming that he is stupid.
I feel sorry for Paul Dano, as I feel sorry for Paul Thomas Anderson because he seems to hate everyone. Christians especially are given the short end of the stick. I'm not sensitive about these issues; but I was raised in church so I know an inaccurate interpretation when I see one. The freaky side of worship services is given a sexual overtone with Eli's preaching. He tries to bind the spirit of arthritis in one scene and ends up caressing a woman because a spirit in his tummy told him to...this doesn't happen; but it does give the audience a chance to hate Eli, which we do.
The church scenes are just way too comically hyperbolic...we get it, you don't believe; but come on!
Daniel becomes more aggressive and more possessive as the movie wears on.
As far as acting goes, or I should say over-acting, both Paul Dano and Daniel Day-Lewis give good performances. My problem is how the characters are written. No body ever talks the way they do. Their cruelty, obsession, and insanity would never come to the skin, it would alway simmers just under the eyes.
But Anderson is not afraid for Daniel to kill people, including an impostor who posed as his brother...this just proves that he is a nasty guy. When he buries the body, the corpse is rolled into oil..or ...blood...or water. Who knows?
The two things that are great in the movie are the music and the cinematography, which both seem flawless. It's a magnificent looking film, hypnotic. But the scream sessions cut into the soft moments too often and the general implausibility of the story gets too out of hand.
So what makes the movie good? Please, someone tell me.
Is it the performances? Surely there has to be more to it than that. Is it the way it's directing, the Kubrickian manner with which it is shot that every person has a passion for? I just can't figure it out.
"There Will Be Blood" is interesting for a few minutes, before it gets to be a phoned in psycho-drama that masquerades as being somewhat historically accurate. It doesn't feature any of Paul Thomas Anderson's more lovable quirks and it features all of his vices.
Oh, and oil is bad.
Posted by Micah Jones