There Will Be Blood is the most recent in a string of films this year that prove that directors don’t have to hold onto their trademark style and strangle all the fun out of it until their movies are just obvious, boring Owen Wilson vehicles.
Paul Thomas Anderson, acclaimed director of quirky hits such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Punch-Drunk Love, has finally struck oil instead of silver with There Will Be Blood. And when I say “struck oil,” I mean struck so much oil that the intensity of the success will explode near his earlier endeavors, causing them to lose hearing. He will then end up a conflicted director, unsure of his own feelings, confused as to his purpose, unable to even look Dirk Diggler in the face anymore. This is rapidly unraveling into nonsense, I apologize. I’m still so giddy over how absurdly good this film was that I’d had this stupid idea to write about it only in “struck oil” cliches.* I also am tempted to make a lot of milkshake jokes, which you won’t get if you haven’t seen it, and you still won’t get until the very end of the film, but I’d enjoy the idea of you sitting there the whole time thinking “How could this film end up having anything at all to do with milkshakes, unless Daniel Day-Lewis gets some stuck in his moustache and he decides to give up the oil business then and there to open a sweet shop in Tuscaloosa.”
Wow, seriously. Wow. Sorry about that. I need to tighten everything up, I guess. I can’t help it. Every time I think of this movie I get chills. And it’s not because anything was particularly haunting or thrilling. There Will Be Blood is not really that kind of movie, although images will certainly remain with you long after you leave the theater. Nope, the reason why I am high on DD-L is twofold.
1. There Will Be Blood is the most recent in a string of films this year that prove that directors don’t have to hold onto their trademark style and strangle all the fun out of it until their movies are just obvious, boring Owen Wilson vehicles. No, PT Anderson and the Coen brothers, both stylistic darlings of the cinematic world, went in completely different directions from their former works (while sort of going parallel to each other, actually). With No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen have finally made a movie that can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a comedy. And There Will Be Blood follows suit. Not having quirks is the new quirk, and not only does it make up for poor Wes Anderson this year, but it reminds us that our old faves are just now reaching the adulthood of their careers. It’s an exciting prospect.
2. There’s a reason critics are (however hesitatingly) comparing this movie to Citizen Kane. Not only is it an intense portrait of a man struggling with his own greed and callousness while at the same time plagued by the greed and callousness of everyone else, but it is impeccably crafted to showcase the nature of man. Unlike Kane, Daniel Plainview’s character is a little less neatly summed. We have one or two moments when Daniel briefly exposes some inner machinations, but during the other 156 minutes, we’re left with context clues — pacing, dialogue, camera angles, lighting, music. Every single element of There Will Be Blood is so clearly constructed not just to create a mood but to color a character. In this way, what is sure to be Anderson’s masterpiece also resembles Joe Wright‘s Atonement, one of its major competitors for this year’s Best Picture category. As Wright captured Briony Tallis’s 13-year-old scattered angst, so does Anderson give us Daniel Plainview, who is so completely an oil man that when he finds weakness within himself for anything else, he gets a little destructive. But why should Daniel shoulder all the blame? His biggest moral detractors are as deceitful and self-serving as he is. Same flaws, different packaging.
The Oscars this year are surprisingly devoid of blockbusters. Their focus is on filmmaking and character, in that order, and the films represented in the nominations are directed and acted so well that you can’t help wonder if this is the beginning of some wonderful second golden age of cinema…an enlightenment in which directors want to make art instead of money and, more importantly, everybody notices. I can’t promise a Best Picture win**, but Daniel Day-Lewis will almost certainly walk away with the Best Actor statuette, since even my beloved Johnny Depp can’t hold a candle to Day-Lewis’s Plainview. But I’m equally convinced that neither he nor the film could have existed in its considerable glory without the other. Any substitutions would have mixed together like…oil and water.
* Of course, if I hadn’t liked it, I would have called it “There Will Be Blood: Anderson’s Folly.”
** Because, unfortunately, I don’t have the means to give the Academy a PowerPoint presentation on how they sometimes but not always have the sophistication of the drunk guy I saw unabashedly peeing in Ellwood Thompson’s parking lot at 3:00 pm on a Monday.