25 January 2008

There Will Be Blood

“I’m going to bury you underground.” “I’m gonna come inside your house, wherever you’re sleeping and I’m gonna cut your throat.” “I told you I was going to eat you!” From these words, we can clearly see that Daniel Plainview means business. That business is oil, the oil industry of the early 1900s, in fact. But to boil “There Will Be Blood” to just another epic film depicting some bygone era would be a gross misunderstanding.
The film is as emotional and reflective as director P.T. Anderson’s other great films, “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love.” But combined with that is an indictment of capitalism that’s as relevant today as it’s ever been. And at the center of it all is the oilman Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is at once a family man, a community leader, a criminal, and a monster.
He starts out scratching in the dirt for silver and gold but eventually builds up an oil empire across the Southwest. His son, H.W. Plainview is always at his side, at first. Besides him, however, Plainview keeps all people at a distance. As he confides to one person, “I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.”
To watch Day-Lewis make the transformation from grizzled prospector to refined entrepreneur to the end result in the film’s final harrowing moments, which I will say little about, is one of the greatest cinematic experiences of the last few years. He delivers no wrong choices, no missteps; indeed it is as flawless a performance as I’ve ever seen.
This character is shown to us through the skillful lens of Anderson’s epic vision. Few directors know how to move the camera as well as he does, and the cinematography is always engaging and engrossing. Anderson knows how to use both short and long cuts to great effect, and so brisk montage is coupled with lengthy meditation to craft not just an interesting story, but an experience all its own.
There are so many other elements of the film that I could go on and on about. There’s Anderson’s script, based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, that is filled with dialogue that will be remembered for years to come. Or I could discuss Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s unique score which truly deserves the oft-used label of “haunting.” And there are the other performances, which are notable perhaps not for their own virtuosity, but for the ability of each actor to hold his own against the force of nature that is Day-Lewis.
It may seem like I’m on some sort of high with the way I’ve been gushing, but it’s all true. It is rare to see a film where all of the people involved are at the top of their game. It is hard to imagine any of them topping themselves. But they never outdo each other. It works as a great fluid union, sweeping us along with it. That’s how you make the best film of 2007. That’s how a classic film is made.
All of this is enough to make a great film, but then you have the ending, which truly cements it in your memory. Without divulging any plot details, I found it strange how the audience reacted differently both times I saw it. I don’t know if there’s a right way to react, but I know that it is the only way to end that movie. The madness to which it descends is delivered with such gusto by Day-Lewis, that no matter how we react to it, there is a part of us that becomes truly afraid, not necessarily of what is in front of us, but that it might be inside of us, too.

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