February 17, 2008
There Will Be Blood
We decided it was time to see this critical darling in time for the Oscars. "What is all the fuss about?" we wondered. Is Daniel Day-Lewis really that good?
In short - yes, he is. He fully inhabits the dastardly character of Daniel Planview, an oil profiteer at the start of the 20th century. Plainview appears to be of one mind throughout - the best profit at any cost, no matter who needs to get stepped on along the way. But his Achilles' heel is the love he has for his adopted son, H.W., which he wouldn't care to admit.
Overall my feeling towards the film is lukewarm. On the one hand, it's a realistic insight into the trials and travails of living on rough terrain in the days when towns were just being constructed. The costumes and sets are well rendered, the cinematography is striking in its bleakness, and most of the acting is strong.
But the vexing issue is the plot, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. I can handle the fact that it's in a way episodic. We don't learn how Plainview got to be so good at his work, and we don't know what ultimately becomes of him (although you can certainly guess). Still, the pieces of story are haphazardly thrown together. It can certainly be frustrating if you're used to a constant narrative through line. I think this type of storytelling works better when the various plot points focus on different characters, such as Anderson's far superior Magnolia.
Also annoying to me was the confusion over Eli and his brother Paul. If you're not really paying attention, you could assume (as I did) that they were one and the same person, which is perplexing to say the least. It's not until halfway through the film that it becomes clear who's who and at that point my brain was a bit fried. Regardless, Eli was so annoying, I admit I was rooting for the bowling pin at the end.
All in all it's a film worth watching, and it's not nearly as violent as some reviews have made it out to be. The only violence we really see is the cunning with which Day-Lewis attacks this role. And in a week, will earn his Oscar.