Sunday, February 10, 2008

Instant American Classic

Holy crap! gentle readers, I saw There Will Be Blood last night. I've thought about it a little, and it may be one of the best movies I've ever seen.

There is very little blood and there an ocean of oil in the movie, so it could be that the title is an allusion to certain events in the Middle East, in which oil, religion, and violence are all whooshed up together, but that may be a stretch. If it is indeed a "message movie," that fact is so subtle that it shouldn't stop anyone from seeing the movie.

The film takes place in the New Mexico and California oil fields right around the beginning of the 20th Century. Like Citizen Kane,, the movie is about greed and paranoid, ruthless ambition. The greed, paranoia, and ambition here are served up with strong flavorings of rage and resentment. The protagonist and antagonist in the film are oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and dirt-poor preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) of the Church of the Third Revelation. One online reviewer referred to Plainview's business and Sunday's church as the twin churches of greed, and, in the film, that's exactly what they are. Plainview and Sunday are very much alike, and their relationship in the movie is a cycle of provocation and vengeance. Throughout the film, each is able to see through the other, and it seems that they can see something of themselves in each other.

The movie opens with a sequence of oil drilling scenes, with several minutes of no dialogue at all. Men are in claustrophobic, dusty, narrow holes in the ground, almost as if they are both injuring the Earth and digging their own graves. Quite a metaphor there. With a few exceptions, the landscape is a parched, nearly lifeless desert, much as Daniel Plainview's soul. The movie was filmed near Marfa, Texas. I've always wanted to visit the Big Bend country.

Much has been made of Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, and it is great. However, I was very impressed with Paul Dano (Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine), who carries his rage, ambition, and greed in a more tightly controlled and devious fashion than Day-Lewis does--and his sermons are absolutely fabulous. The hustling preacher was a fixture on the American frontier, and Dano does that character justice--as Plainview said after one of his sermons, "that was a goddamn hell of a show!"

There Will Be Blood is a great movie. The pacing is a bit slow for anybody expecting rapid action, and director Thomas Paul Anderson gets a bit artsy, but only momentarily. This is one of those movies that people will be watching 50 years from now, it's that good.

1 comment:

Casdok said...

Sounds interesting! I will look out for it! Cheers!