Monday, February 18, 2008

Blood, Sweat & Tears

I saw There Will Be Blood on Saturday night. I was sort of intrigued to see it, but never what you might call excited. I run very hot and cold where Paul Thomas Anderson is concerned and I flat out fucking hated Punch Drunk Love. But this film is a rare beast indeed and one that should be seen.

At its centre, the film has what would, for any other actor, be a career defining, revelatory performance. But it's Daniel Day-Lewis and therefore it's business as usual. There's something about Lewis I just can't take to. He's such a cold fish. He's a phenomenal actor, but he's serious and humourless about his "craft" to the point of mind numbing tedium, and so painfully Method about everything, I often just want to shake him and say "oh for heavens sake would you lighten up?". He can be unforgiving to work with too, as the unnamed actor originally cast in the role of Eli Sunday will attest. Let go from the film midway through the shoot because, to quote Day-Lewis "we just weren't coping". With all that being said, his performance as Daniel Plainview is pretty astonishing.

There Will Be Blood is Plainview's story, foloowing him from humble solo beginnings, until he is a oil baron, commanding hundreds of men. During the story's wordless opening (it is a full eleven and a half minutes before any dialogue appears) Plainview adopts a fallen colleague's child for what might initially be seen as compassionate reasons. But in this film, nothing is really what it seems. Plainview is a man with no morals, no scruples, no nothing. Apparently. And yet, there are some moments that could be construed as genuinely tender. What struck me is that Plainview is a man constantly at war with himself, strangling any compassionate feelings because he knows he has to in order to survive rather than actually being an out an out calculating sociopath. Paul Dano is the constant thorn in Plainview's side, preaching religion and not hesitating in blackmailing people to act out his revenge. There are some truly thrilling moments in these scenes where he and Plainview clash against each other. Unfortunately, Dano was cast with just four days to prepare and consequently, while he's very good considering, he struggles with some of the less subtle sermons the fervent Eli delivers. Performance-wise though, the real revelation is Dillon Freasier as the young HR Plainview, Daniel's adopted son and, in just one heartbreaking scene, Russell Harvard as the grown up HR.

And so it goes, for 150 character driven, perfectly paced, exquisitely directed, always engrossing minutes. And then, some people say, Anderson spends 8 minutes completely upsetting the apple cart, pushing Day Lewis' performance so far over the top it comes down the other side, and taking Plainview to a conclusion that is anything but logical. Well to those people, I say this; poppycock. The final scene of the movie is pitch perfect and, if you read Plainview in the way I did, makes entirely logical sense. It doesn't make for comfortable easy viewing, but it makes sense. A film to be admired and respected rather than loved, There Will Be Blood is challenging viewing, but a challenge that is infinitely rewarding.

1 comment:

Limecrete said...

I always feel like such a wuss asking this, but how gory is this movie? Most violence is fine; I just don't want to see a character's brains leaking out the back of their head, or shards of glass sticking out of their eyeballs.