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.