For about a week my main bit of conversation fodder was me, at some point, telling the person I’m talking to that I saw There Will Be Blood. I did this because I had really unique feelings about this movie, which I really wanted to communicate. My main problem was that I could not seem to nail my feelings about the movie until very recently, feelings which I intend to explain here.
There Will Be Blood is a one of a handful of movies I’ve seen which I could not easily decide if I thought it was good or bad. This is proof positive that the movie is unique, which it most definitely is. It is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen. However, the question is not if the movie is unique, the question is whether or not the movie should be recommended, which is the tricky part.
The movie has a plot which is easy enough to appreciate. Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York, The Last of the Mohicans) stars as Daniel Plainview, a man who starts out prospecting for silver, moving on to oil after he is finds silver while digging, though wounded in the process. Enter the Sunday family, a poor family of goat farmers whose rocky land grows nothing but weeds. Paul, one of two Sunday brothers, comes to Plainview, telling him that he has discovered oil on his family’s ranch and is willing to sell it to him. Plainview’s corruption (the real star) consequently progresses from mild, when he receives the land and starts building on it, to moderate, when he discovers that, in his own words, “there’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet! And no one can get at it except for me,” forgoing a couple important safety precautions in pursuit of this oil, and finally severe, when he descends into a pattern of violent, erratic alcoholism.
With this out of the way, the good parts of the movie will be granted the attention they deserve. The movie was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Hard Eight) and this movie is his magnum opus. Hell, it’s everyone’s magnum opus. The cinematographer, the production designer, I’d even say it’s the Best Boy’s magnum opus, if I had a really clear idea as to what a best boy actually is. Every scene is constructed beautifully, created with a level of careful precision I last remember seeing in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The acting is the best part of this movie, though. Daniel Day-Lewis shines in this moving study of corruption (passion?) and what it does to people. Paul Dano should get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performances as Paul and Eli Sunday (Eli is a healer who is Plainview’s morally ambiguous “antagonist,” if such a thing exists in this movie), and works with Day-Lewis on screen perfectly. The kid who plays Plainview’s son deserves an honorable mention, and does so much with the little he is given (very little dialogue, not present for several scenes). The weakest thing about this movie was the music, which was still quite good, but was nothing if not bizarre in parts (after select plot points, a sound plays that is very similar to the noise that informs the audience that their movie is being shown in Dolby THX surround sound), but I guess it’s to be expected if Johnny Greenwood (the guy from Radiohead) is doing the soundtrack. The movie will be a heavy contender for the Oscars, and will be so deserving of the awards.
There is, however, an extremely prominent caveat which cannot be overlooked. Conversations with a few friends and neighbors have confirmed to me that No Country for Old Men is by no means for everyone. Some of the people I have spoken to have said that it was anything from boring, to pretentious, to nauseating. I thought No Country was phenomenal, fast paced and ended on a note which gave me a lot to think about. There Will Be Blood is another modern western, but not in the way that No Country is. To the people who thought it was too slow: There Will Be Blood makes No Country for Old Men look like Transformers. For all its splendor, I think the movie could have stood to be about a half-hour shorter, shaving off a few of the insanely huge landscape shots, huge both in size and duration. This movie is laden with far more meaning than No Country for Old Men, since the latter had a more clearly defined “good” and “bad” guy, and also had huge landscape shots (fun fact: the two movies were shot, in part anyway, in the same place at about the same time). The impact of the desolate environment is carried more succinctly in No Country, though it’s laden with more meaning in There Will Be Blood, where (I highly doubt this is a spoiler, since it’s repeatedly emphasized both in press about the movie and in the movie itself) the harsh, desolate landscape serves as a metaphor for the condition of Plainview’s soul. Also, very importantly: contrary to the movie’s title, there is very little blood, even in the parts where there one would think there would be blood, e.g. when a piece of improperly secured heavy equipment falls on a worker’s head, killing him instantly. The title actually comes from Exodus 7:19, so IMDb tells me (“there will be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone”). The issue is, in short, that when (not if) this movie sweeps the Oscars, it will singlehandedly justify the opinions of everybody who thinks that Oscars are give to pretentious, artsy films with little to no entertainment value. If you want a fun, plot-driven movie you can take a first date to, stay away at all costs. She will probably leave you and never speak to you again for any reason whatsoever. If, however if you want a) a fascinating character study with lots of stunning photography and/or b) an $8 nap, go ahead and see it, you won’t regret it.
As an aside, during a discussion about the movie, I remembered something of note. Mark Twain defined a classic as a book everyone praises but nobody actually reads. This movie will probably join the ranks of movies like The Rules of the Game and Bicycle Thieves as such a movie, something which, in my mind, is truly a crying shame.