There Will Be Blood: Super Tuesday

Well, okay, this is a movie review, not a political post about the primaries, but…they are somewhat related. There Will Be Blood is definitely a political movie. It’s capitalist/entrepreneur versus fundamentalist priest in There Will Be Blood, even as the irony is, of course, that the unrelenting selfish evangelical element in both has resulted in the situation we currently have in this country: a culture of superficial greed and selfishness, without empathy for people different from us or respect for the world we live in.

Now, that’s a generalization, which means it’s false because life is more complex than that, but the movie There Will Be Blood isn’t much more subtle than what I’ve just written above. The only real subtlety of the movie comes from the cinematography and the nuances to Daniel Day Lewis’ “oil man” character (which walk hand-in-hand with some over-the-top character stuff, too). Throughout more than forty years, the oil man struggles to be successful, driven by demons that…well, demons we really don’t know much about. There’s not much background to Lewis’ character–it’s all in the moment. That moment is also bludgeoned into your head by a driving, danger-music soundtrack that I loved as music but hated connected to this movie. Basically, the music tells us that every moment of this sometimes slow flick is Important and Dramatic. Well, it isn’t, because if every moment is important, none of them are.

The ending of the film, after a kind of post-oil-drilling coda showing Oil Man as Citizen-Kane-on-his-way-to-Rosebud-moment in an opulent, tasteless mansion…that ending is as bizarre a bit of black comedy slapstick as you’d be likely to see in a Kubrick film. The only problem is…we either have to completely re-evaluate our impression of the tone of the rest of the movie and come to believe that the director has meant it all as absurdism–despite shooting it as realism–or that Lewis’ character was always a lot crazier than we thought. I can buy this second re-evaluation of the film, but the ending still seems weak in the context of the rest of the movie. It’s a similar feeling to my thoughts on the soundtrack–would love it in some other context.

Yet, at the same time, this ending is not particularly well-filmed. The blocking isn’t good–it’s not clear why one character can’t escape before violence occurs. The scene hasn’t really been choreographed realistically–it’s been choreographed to get the result the director wanted.

So I have mixed feelings about There Will Be Blood. I don’t think it’s the best movie of the year. I’m not even sure it would make my top five. It has brilliant set pieces. It has a performance by Lewis that smolders and is at times deliciously over-the-top. And I think the subtle ways in which Lewis shows his character’s disgust at and hatred for the priest is beautifully done. Still, by the end of it, I felt numb more than anything else. And I don’t know that’s an emotion (or lack of emotion) that can define a classic.

Comments

  1. kelly says

    Great, honest points about a film that has inspired a herd reaction from the critical community. This isn’t an easy film to love, though the response has led one to believe it is, to believe it’s an instant classic. This is a film that should, if folks were being honest with themselves, be dividing its audience.

    Now, at the end of the day, I happen to disagree with you. Specifically on this point: “The only problem is…we either have to completely re-evaluate our impression of the tone of the rest of the movie and come to believe that the director has meant it all as absurdism–despite shooting it as realism–or that Lewis’ character was always a lot crazier than we thought.”

    I don’t see this as a problem. The mere fact that Day-Lewis’ character, and therefore the film, dares us to reevaluate him, to truly discover him at the end, is what makes this picture work for me; so I do happen to think it’s one of the standout films of ’07. (Full disclosure: P.T. Anderson’s my favorite living filmmaker.)

    Still, I think this a movie viewers need to come to terms with, to wrestle with and not simply love or dismiss at the drop of a dime.

  2. says

    Yeah–I can see that. I don’t believe it’s a film that can be fully assimilated on a first viewing. I do love Anderson’s underrated Punch-Drunk Love.

    What did you think of the soundtrack? It worked for you, as a soundtrack?

    Also, how did you reevaluate Lewis’s character–as always nuts, or simply nuts after he’s lost his kind of “moral compass,” the child who might be his son?

    I wasn’t really sure of the line “Bastard in a basket,” which just made me laugh.

    Jeff

  3. kelly says

    Yeah, I really dig Punch-Drunk Love. Makes a good double-feature with Eternal Sunshine.

    TWBB’s soundtrack – which also made me think of Kubrick – and cinematography really worked for me. I think these tactile elements served and gelled perfectly with the story’s heavy-handed elements, giving the film an almost operatic grandeur.

    If pushed to a decision, I think Day-Lewis’ character was always nuts. He of course becomes more so as his greed consumes him, so there is some evolution.

    There were also some great, almost surreal set pieces in the film. The burning of the oil derrick comes to mind, as does Day-Lewis’ forced repentance. There’s a real oddness to the film, making it hard for me to compartmentalize and think of as simply “good” or “bad.”

  4. says

    Man, I want to see this film. Trapped in northern Manitoba, I don’t think it’ll ever play in our theatre (I’m amazed we’ve got Cloverfield), so I’ll likely have to wait for video. I’m thinking of presenting it as part of our library’s ongoing series of mature films. Right now, we’re set to show ONCE and INTO THE WILD, which I’m particularly stoked about.

    BTW, reading CITY OF SAINTS etc. Wow. And you’re doing a PREDATOR novel? It doesn’t really mesh with your sensibilities, I would think, but I cannot wait to read it. Perhaps we should start a new series of movie/video-game novels written by true talents. RESIDENT EVIL by Thomas Pynchon. WORLD OF WARCRAFT by David Foster Wallace. My mind reels at the thought.

  5. says

    Corey:

    Man, we’re lucky it got to Tallahassee, frankly. We sometimes don’t get indie films until 6 months after they come out.

    Re City versus Predator…if you can do the things I tried to do in City, you can do Predator, no problem. It’s like a good comedian can be a good dramatic actor, if that makes sense. Besides, some of my short fiction is more action-oriented and less layered. And it’s more or less just inverting my normal approach–which is to say, there are short action bits in City of Saints, they’re just surrounded by other stuff. Anyway, I’ll be interested to see what you think of the Pred novel, if you happen to pick it up. Seriously!

    JV

  6. says

    finally got to see the infamous There Will Be Blood… Daniel-Day Lewis’ performance was top-notch. He takes well to the overbearing, violent father-figure role — he also did this in Gangs of New York.

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