Monday, December 31, 2007

There Will Be Blood (2007)

This one deserves its own heading. I was primed to love it and I did, but I was also surprised to find that it was less of a plot-heavy clash over land and oil rights (which the trailer had made it appear) and more of an elliptical character study of Daniel Plainview with emphasis on his personal and family life, in the persons of his son (Dillon Freasier) and half-brother (Kevin J. O'Connor, previously mostly known as the second banana in several Stephen Sommers movies). It's a terrific look at the American self-made millionaire, paranoid and scheming but capable and worthy of respect all the same - what I like to call a 'magnificent bastard' movie. The music by Jonny Greenwood (and assists from Arvo Part and Brahms) is terrific, the cinematography is excellent, and everyone else is saying it so I might as well, too: Daniel Day-Lewis is stunning as Daniel Plainview.

This movie also represents a step forward for Paul Thomas Anderson, too. I recently rewatched Boogie Nights, which I hadn't seen in several years and had always felt some lingering dissatisfaction with. Watching it this time I realized that even though the explicit subject of the movie is the porn industry in the late '70s-early '80s, the implicit subject of the movie is Anderson's own exuberance and joy at being able to make cinema, to play with what Welles called 'the best train set a boy could ever have'. And while I love movies like it, that reflect that Truffautian joy of creation, the problem is that it's a movie that's a little too exuberant for its own good. I love Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love for the same reasons, but they suffer from the same flaw in varying degrees.

In this movie, Anderson has found subject material from a pre-existing source that reflects his own personal thematic interests (the people and history of Southern California, father-son relationships) and also has forced him to hone his abilities like he never has before in the subject of a particular focussed vision, with less flash and frills and more steel underneath). It's a nice step forward and I hope this movie makes a lot of money so we don't have to wait five years for his next movie.

One question: how long did it take people to realize that Paul Dano was actually playing two characters? For me, it wasn't until the dinner scene when Eli jumps at his father. Yes, I know that's 2/3 into the movie. Oh well.


cjKennedy said...

Addressing your last point first, during a Q&A several people had to have the difference between brothers Paul and Eli explained to them even after it was all over.

I think I didn't draw the distinction until it was absolutely necessary. I was just along for the ride.

What gets me about this movie is how epic it seems, yet how personal it really is...sort of along the lines of what you just said more eloquently. It's Anderson's longest movie, but it's also his leanest. All the fat is trimmed away and it's just an amazing express train of a movie. he first time, I remember checking my watch a little bit after HW's accident when the movie seems to pause to catch it's breath, but that was the only time. The 2 subsequent viewings I didn't get restless once, I was so wrapped up in Daniel Day-Lewis.

Anonymous said...

I HAVE TO SEE THIS FILM. Sorry for shouting, but I am desperate! I am glad you thought it was good.

Harvey said...

I finally saw it today. Now I can read all the 50 articles I've bookmarked and watch the Charlie Rose interview I recorded.

And, actually, CJK, "Magnolia" beats "TWBB" for length by about a half-hour.

And Paul tells Plainview he has a brother named Eli. Later, at the Sunday ranch, Eli introduces him as such.

However, despite my diligent attempts to avoid any and all spoilers, I was grazed by a H-E thread that said, near the top, that Dano played twins. So I was braced for that.

I also couldn't avoid references to the "I Drink Your Milkshake" line. Eventually, whenever I pulled up Wells' site, I tended to take off my glasses so my focus wouldn't be so sharp and I could avoid anything "Blood"-centric.

Jeff McMahon said...

I think that's probably the best way to read Hollywood Elsewhere. I wish I knew how to quit you, Jeff Wells.

Anyway, glad you liked it. I saw the movie a second time last week and loved it even more in its eccentricities and subtleties. It's a 'sympathy for the devil' movie, which I think is one of the best kinds of stories, and I absolutely love the baptism scene and that horrible glare Plainview throws to Eli Sunday that has its payoff in the bowling alley.