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I’m so glad I’m finally able to post this. I saw this at a screening about a week and a half ago, and then school started after that half-week (which is keeping me busy during the week, so I’ll be posting reviews and occasional essays weekly on Friday nights from now on). I’ve been dying to see if I’m the only one having these thoughts about There Will Be Blood. So, let the hate mail/comments begin.

 
I mean, doesn’t this just look like a poster
belonging to a really awesome movie?!

Highly-anticipated by both myself and others after the director’s five-year hiatus, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is one of those films that sweeps at critics circles before it even gets released. Now that it’s hit theaters, the movie is at 89% from 108 reviews and 94% from the Cream of the Crop at Rotten Tomatoes. The film scored a 93 and Universal Acclaim status at Metacritic.

Yet I managed to find so much to dislike about it. (Let it be known, however, that I’m a huge PTA fan: I’ve seen all his movies and would highly recommend each of them.) Blood is a movie that depends on the audience caring about the main character, and if the audience cannot sympathize, then (to the audience) the film falls apart. I didn’t have any feelings about Daniel Plainview (portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in an often overwrought performance), and watching this character’s journey for 158 minutes was painful. I didn’t just simply “not like” the movie: I hated it. And had I seen this last year, I would have placed it at number three on my Worst 5 list, below I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Fred Claus.

So, what’s happening here? Is there something wrong with me, or is there some chemical in the water that I’m not drinking that every other person with an opinion about movies is? While I’d much rather believe the latter, neither is true. One of the things that’s so great about film, and art in general, is that two people can completely disagree about a work, yet both can be right in their own way. One person can reasonably hate every second of a movie, and the other can logically love it to no end.

Therefore, I like to see this as a difference of opinion (though I am open-minded enough to want to see Blood again). So, I have some examples of trust-worthy people’s opinions and an explanation of where my line of thought differs from theirs.

Ryland Walker Knight said in his review at The House Next Door:

The horror that is Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth feature, There Will Be Blood, is not simply an amplified feeling of distress but distress itself: a seething perpetual pressure, unremitting, brutal, always on the brink of eruption. Yet the threat (or the promise) of the film’s title is a mere hint of the lurking, bubbling terror within. More pointedly, the title — written in a skuzzy, white, printing press Old English across the width of the film’s opening black screen — is the film’s first trigger pulled to wring its audience anxious and uneasy for a terse, dire, cunning two hours and forty minutes.

I see Knight’s take on the “amplified feeling of distress,” but it didn’t translate as such to me from the screen. When characters slap or whimper or spit as they screamed (who can miss that long, slow drip of saliva in the films final minutes?), it felt like everyone was overacting. At one point, Daniel rubs oil on the face of preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) and slaps him like a sissy. Daniel’s son is struck deaf by an explosion, and his tortured screaming in one of the following scenes sounds ridiculous: not like the real shouting of a person who can’t hear like in Children of a Lesser God, but more like, as Chad describes in In the Company of Men, “like Flipper.” Or a dying seal, whichever offends you less. Dano, who sprays water occasionally in his role as a loud-mouth preacher, had to walk a fine line between overacting and nailing the part. Unfortunately, he does too much, and even though he does resemble some of those in his line of work, his behavior feels inappropriately loud.


How beautiful: you can almost
feel the pain of the father and the child.

The Chicago Reader‘s Jonathan Rosebaum chose Blood as a Critic’s Choice (even though the capsule sounds negative to me). The gist of it:

The cynical shallowness of both the characters and the overall conception–American success as an unholy alliance between a turn-of-the-century capitalist (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a faith healer (Paul Dano), both hypocrites–can’t quite sustain the film’s visionary airs, even with good expressionist acting and a percussive score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. This has loads of swagger, but for stylistic audacity I prefer Anderson’s more scattershot Magnolia.

I’ve already stated my feelings about the acting, but I wanted to discuss Greenwood’s score. I love the compositions: on their own, I could listen to them forever. (As a matter of fact, I’m listening to OK Computer as of this writing.) But the music isn’t like Nick Cave’s work in The Proposition, which was not only visceral on it’s own but made you feel the sand in the character’s teeth in the film. In Blood, the score only agitates the scene, making it more irritating than “on the brink of eruption.” Even though the silent scenes in the beginning of the movie felt like they would shatter with pretension, the lack of music worked better than “tense” scenes that overused the score.

Roger Ebert:

[This character’s] name is Daniel Plainview, and he must have given the name to himself as a private joke, for little that he does is as it seems.[…]

Watching the movie is like viewing a natural disaster that you cannot turn away from. By that I do not mean that the movie is bad, any more than it is good. It is a force beyond categories. It has scenes of terror and poignancy, scenes of ruthless chicanery, scenes awesome for their scope, moments echoing with whispers and an ending that in some peculiar way this material demands, because it could not conclude on an appropriate note — there has been nothing appropriate about it. Those who hate the ending, and there may be many, might be asked to dictate a different one. Something bittersweet, perhaps? Grandly tragic? Only madness can supply a termination for this story.[…]

In images starkly and magnificently created by cinematographer Robert Elswit and set designer Jack Fisk, we see the first shaky wells replaced by vast fields, all overseen by Plainview from the porch of a rude shack, where he sips whiskey more or less ceaselessly.

The playful names were like thorns twisting into my side whenever they were spoken on the screen: “Daniel Plainview” and “Eli Sunday” just seem too “chosen.”


Another great shot.

The movie does seem to be outside categorization. When I have tried to sum up the film for people, I find myself stumped. The movie has lingered with me, and I still think about it, so I guess it’s technically “unforgettable.” But in that case, so are Mannequin and Norbit and being raped.

That’s what’s curious about Ebert’s wording: “…I do not mean that the movie is bad, any more than it is good.” So which one are you calling it? Even though it is “beyond categorization,” surely it fits in one or the other. I don’t really believe in the theory that you can call a movie a grand masterpiece but not actually enjoy it on a pleasurable level. Even though supposed “hard to like” movies like El Topo and Cronenberg’s Crash aren’t movies that move me like Citizen Kane or a Lubitsch picture, they move me in another way, and I get pleasure from the film from an aesthetic view.

And if I will compliment anything about the film, it’s the cinematography and the set design. I think this explains why I can watch (and fall in love with) promotional material for the movie. In the end, I just can’t pull away from the film that I experienced rather than the film I more or less expected.

Rating: 3/10

Part II will come once I see this again, which I don’t think will be anytime soon.

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2 Comments

  1. Hey, you didn’t like this movie, I loved this movie, want to get a little back and forth debate going on the blogs? Could make for some fun articles.

  2. Yeah, let’s go for it! There needs to be more dialogue about this movie, which has many cons along with some great pros.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Oscars « Joey’s Film Blog on 22 Jan 2008 at 8:56 pm

    […] Deserves to Win: Atonement You know my feelings on There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, and No Country for Old Men. I put both Juno and Atonement in my Top 15 at the end […]

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