Monday, January 21, 2008

There Will Be [a] Blood[y Genius Film]

Last night I braved the freezing temperatures and ventured out to see the best film of the year, There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day Lewis and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. My love of Daniel Day Lewis goes back to The Last of the Mohicans, where he spends most of the movie running around the mountains with hair down to his butt, shirt torn open. I remember seeing the film as a young girl and thinking, "now THAT is a man." PTA, at 37, is certainly the most talented American filmmaker working today, with Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love under his belt. And with almost every review remarking on the brilliance of its supporting actors, Paul Dano and Dillion Freasier, it's an understatement to say I was looking forward to seeing There Will Be Blood.

The first thing that needs to be discussed is the soundtrack, written for the film by Jonny Greenwood, the guitarist for Radiohead. Aside from the brilliant performances, the music is the best thing about this film. It is one of the most unsettling scores I have ever heard: right from the beginning the crash of strings and synth is in direct contrast to the simple, stark landscape. But the music immediately sets the tone that "there will be blood," or at least a swarm of flesh-eating locusts. There is something very dangerous out in these empty hills, and it's blacker than oil.

Anderson brilliantly chooses his first scene. Daniel Plainview as a young man mining for silver or other precious metals, falls into his mine. With no dialogue, his agonizing cry as he tries to regain his breath and comes to the realization (at the same time as we do) that his leg is horribly mangled signals the beginning of what is a long, girthy descent into hell.

After his partner is killed in a mining accident, Daniel adopts the man's infant, calling him his own. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a family man. I run this business with my son and partner, H.W. Plainview." It would be difficult for any person not to feel for the poor baby, but in the scene where they make their way by train into town, and the baby reaches up to touch his new father's face, I found myself feeling for Daniel instead.

There are many moments like that. In fact, throughout the entire film, I found myself grasping at straws, slipping over and over as I attempted to decide whether or not I trusted Daniel Planview. His demeanor towards his son seemed to be the key to unlocking this man's identity. But soon I realized it didn't matter whether I trusted him or not, and there would be no way of knowing, which is a terrifying realization.

Obviously Dano's Eli, the young minister whose family's land Planview buys up to drill (with the promise that he will pay Eli $5,000 for his fledgling congregation) works as a foil to Planview's dark and brooding character. But as the film goes on, one notices that Eli is not so righteous as one thought. He is cut from the same meglomaniacal cloth as Daniel. And as Daniel says, "I don't want people to succeed," he sees Eli as a threat to not only his drilling, but his standing as the king of the hill. Violence flows seamlessly from Daniel to Eli. There is one confrontation in particular which I will leave for your viewing pleasure. But when Daniel tells Eli, "I will bury you underground," I believe him.

Anderson is an expert at explosive violence. It's no surprise to me that he chose to make a film about oil mining, as the geyser of oil and the business of getting it is perhaps best reflects the spurting geyser of veined human blood. But it is the chase, the game, that makes this movie more than just a good movie with brilliant actors. It is the smirk on the face of fate and men that make this film the best film of the year. Even as Eli is brutalized by Plainview in every sense of the word, he still manages a smile at Plainview's antics. And as Daniel utters a monologue to his supposed brother (who appears out of nowhere) about his contempt for all people, his face is like a grinning skull.

There Will Be Blood is a dance with the devil. Be prepared to be covered in the blackest grime of greed and evil. In a move which I consider sheer brilliance and bravery, there is no redemptive flavor to it.

The black blood of what we call human nature does not burn clean.


Mary-Laure said...

Oh, I can't wait to see it! It won't be released in paris unteil next month, I think...

Joanna Goddard said...

my friends loved this but i wasn't sure about the looked overacted? i'm still looking forward to seeing it, though.....

Snobber said...

joanna, i fear you and i may different tastes in film if you're worried about it being 'overacted.' ;)

i really do love the film. i even cried.

Stephen Ley said...

I enjoyed your review (just stumbled across it randomly) even though the film didn't work as well for me as it did for you. This is one that may take a few years and a few more viewings to sink in.