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December 15, 2007
There Will Be Blood Review
— Posted by John Campea
(Sorry for no video version of the review, but I’m currently visiting in Los Angeles) It’s almost become an automatic like taxes and death. When you hear, on the very rare occasion, that Daniel Day Lewis has accepted a role in a film, you start instantly wondering how much Oscar buzz he’ll get, because you KNOW he’ll get some no matter what. It’s a by product of Lewis becoming one of the most consistently outstanding actors of all time, and the fact that he seems to be VERY selective about which projects he’ll get involved with. Put it into perspective: In the last 20 years Samuel L Jackson has chosen to appear in over 77 films. Daniel Day Lewis has chosen to appeared in 12. The man is picky.
Much talk surrounded “There Will Be Blood” before it even started shooting. Adapted from a 1927 novel called “Oil!”, the lead character Daniel Plainview was a rich and complex one that a lot of people thought Day Lewis would be able to shine in. But for me, I had no expectations walking in because other than buzz… I hadn’t seen one single clip or one single trailer for the film… which doesn’t happen often for me obviously. It was kind of a nice feeling.
THE GENERAL IDEA
Daniel Plainview is a hard working and determined man at the start of the 1900’s who seems limitless in his pure determination to succeed. A miner searching for gold and silver, Plainview changes directions when he accidentally discovers oil on one dig. When one of his crew members is killed in a digging accident, Plainview adopts the man’s baby son as his own, telling no one, not even the boy, that he isn’t his natural son. As the years pass and Plainview becomes more and more successful, he develops a deep and loving fatherly relationship with his son, H.W. Plainview and even tells people the young boy is his “Partner”. But when Daniel is told of a rich oil deposit in a small faith lead community, Plainview begins to reveal his darker side. Pushed by greed and spite, Plainview quickly comes to odds with the community’s young fanatical religious leader, Eli (played by Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano). Hatred, ego, love, greed and deception all boil to the surface like oil.
I would e remiss if I didn’t start this off by mentioning the performance given by Daniel Day Lewis. The words just don’t exist to express how truly amazing he is in this film. Daniel Plainview is a deeply complex man, who doesn’t even know himself at times if he is a good man or a bad man… or if the difference even matters. Lewis is able to portray Plainview in such a way that all this is communicated without ever talking about it. At the same time has has you loving, admiring, feeling sorry for, detesting and FEARING Plainview. Every moment that he’s on screen he is conveying aspects of his character even when not speaking. Troubled and twisted, dedicated and loving, harsh and unforgiving, all rolled into this character that Day Lewis brings to vivid life on the screen. It’s funny… whenever I see Daniel Day Lewis in a film I think to myself “He can’t possibly get any better than this”… and then he goes and does There Will Be Blood. If he isn’t nominated for Best Actor at the Oscar’s this year, I’ll just assume slept with 15 members of the Academy’s wives and got caught… because nothing else could possibly explain it.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has grown and evolved so much it’s stunning. I often refer to diversity when judging how good an actor truly is. Can they play a vast range of characters with equal convincingness (like a Russell Crowe) or do they generally come off as the same guy… even if they do that guy very well (like Sam Elliot). Both can be very good… but the really exceptional ones are the performers who can stretch and take on totally different personas and character types with equal ease. Paul Thomas Anderson is becoming more and more like that as a director. There Will Be Blood is a VASTLY different film than anything else he’s done before. It’s certainly not like Boogie Nights, or Magnolia, or Punch Drunk Love. The way Anderson uses visuals to tell story elements was remarkable. The entire background set up is told in the first 5 minutes of the film… WITHOUT ONE SINGLE WORD OF DIALOG! It was fantastic
This film made you feel dirty… in a dirt and mud sort of way. It really immerses you into the world the characters are playing in. You can “feel” how hard it is to do what they do… how much is SUCKS sometimes (the beginning of the film does this particularly well) and how subtle tension can be below the surface. That’s the real strength of There Will Be Blood… it succeeds in transporting you there, in making you feel the whole time like you’re standing in the room watching all the drama unfold instead of like you’re sitting in a movie theater watching a production. It’s hard for me to explain… but you’ll see what I mean.
My one gripe about There Will Be Blood has to do with the relationship between Daniel Plainview and his adopted son H.W. It felt to me like the whole film was the set up… and then it just skipped right to the end with no exposition of how their relationship changed and evolved over the years. One moment H.W. is a child… the next moment he’s a full grown adult talking about the status of his and Daniel’s relationship without ever showing us any of that evolution. The phrase I used to one person who asked me about the film was “I felt short changed when it came to the father/son relationship”. I was told the set up… then just told the ending with any sense at all of the journey that took them both to that point we find them at near the end of the film.
Ok, I was debating if I should put this in here or not… because is sounds self-contradicting… but it’s the truth. There are times in the movie where I felt a little bored, and yet at the exact same time I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. How those two things co-exist I don’t know… but maybe you can identify with the feeling.
A visually rich, performance driven look at the demons in a man and what greed and power can do to any of us. So simple and yet so deep and complex. One of the best performances by an actor this year, and directed in such a way to use the richness of the movie medium without an over reliance on exposition to tell the story. A small point that felt a little unsatisfying at the end was hardly enough to upset my overall enjoyment of this film. I LOVED There Will Be Blood. One of the best films of the year that leaves me desperately anticipating what Anderson does next. Overall I give There Will Be Blood a 9 out of 10
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