Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mini Review: There Will Be Blood (***1/2)

Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" isn't the masterpiece that some critics claim it to be, but that doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, it's amazing film in its own right. But there are major quibbles to be had with the ending. It's fortunate, then, that its lead performance is so mesmerizing, brilliant, groundbreaking, and nearly earth-shattering in its utter believability that it makes up for any inconsistencies or sudden drop-offs. Also, the cinematography is simply wonderful the whole way through, and the filmmaking by Anderson is some of the most exquisite in recent memory.

Daniel Plainview is not a likable guy. He didn't bat an eye when his best friend is killed on his watch, so obsessed with the oil business is he. Instead, he finished the mission he was on and immediately takes in his godson, H.W. Ten years later, he and H.W. are making lots of money in the oil field. Unfortunately, when a spitfire preacher named Eli shows up (claiming another name and identity completely), Daniel is close to breaking point. As his specialty is intimidation (he repeatedly makes death threats to sell oil rigs), he tries to scare Eli into shutting down his cult church gathering.

For about 145 minutes, "There Will Be Blood" ranked as one of the greatest films ever put on cinema. I was so utterly enthralled by this large section that it was almost painful when the movie gave up in the last quarter to a silly overreaching ending that comes to a complete halt when things should be heating up. It's too bad; the movie could have been a masterpiece.

A word on Daniel Day-Lewis: This is the best performance of the first seven years of the millenium. Although Heath Ledger later beat him out by somehow being even better in "The Dark Knight," Day-Lewis' performance is something for the history books. No, really. Books on acting would be remiss to forget Daniel Day-Lewis when talking about great, cinematic performances for the age.

The cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which one the Oscar last year, is utterly phenomenal. Visions seep into the memory and never let go (pick a sequence and it can be dissected for hours). Although I personally believe that Roger Deakins was robbed from his deserved win for the underrated masterpiece "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," that doesn't mean that the cinematography for "There Will Be Blood" was worse. It just showcases that 2007 was a history-making year for great cinematography. "There Will Be Blood" may be flawed, but it is an interesting must-see for future directors. Or actors.


Actionman said...

This was one of my favorites in 2007.


I disagree with you about the ending to this brilliant, one-of-a-kind film.

The film leads up to the only ending possible, at least in my book.

Plainview has become a monster, unable to leave the confines of that house. He's sort of become what he's always hated. The amazing yet deeply sad sequence where he explains to H.W. that he's an orphan speaks volumes about Plainview as a man. Throughout the film you did get a good sense that Plainview was always about taking care of #1, but there were at least hints of humanity buried inside of him. But alas, this is not the case. And his deep resentment of Eli never wavers; he's disgusted with him and all that he stands for. So when Eli shows up -- to gloat --Plainview has had just about enough.

This is a challenging, remarkable picture, as so many others were last year.

Joel said...

Definitely agree with your last sentence there, Actionman. I loved the ideas of the ending, but I do wish that Anderson had dealt with it in a less...weird...way.

But yes, challenging, indeed. And one of a kind. And boy, was Daniel Day-Lewis adjective-lessly good.

What I'm doing (in case you can't tell) is revisiting 2007, which, along with the Best Year Ever 2006, was astounding for film. Even though I only saw about 40 movies, over 20 of those were four-star gems. As I'm able, I'm reviewing those, as well as some other notable 2007 movies (you'll see my favorite blow-stuff-up summer movie, "Transformers," in there at some point, I'm sure).

Definitely enjoy these next few weeks!