ONE WAY STREET
Alan's sporadic takes on Film Noir and other aspects of pop culture
Beefing about Blood
Wildly praised, Oscar nominated film is a major disappointment
I don’t know why I partially bought into the press release journalism that passes muster as legit movie criticism nowadays. There Will Be Blood has been lauded to the critical heavens as an all-time classic with one notable scrivener comparing Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic to Citizen Kane. High praise indeed. I knew better, but I still should have known better.
Part of it was my admiration of Daniel Day Lewis’ acting craftsmanship in My Left Foot and Gangs of New York. My interest was also piqued by Anderson’s stated inspiration of The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) - a pantheon classic and personal favorite - that he reportedly used as a template for his latest movie. And yes, I admittedly got a little dizzy after being bombarded by the pre-Oscar media cacophony of rave reviews for a reputed epic that was a paean to great movies past.
After watching There Will Be Blood, I can state categorically that not only does this much-ballyhooed film not hold a candle to Citizen Kane; it is simply not a very entertaining movie.
Thomas, who’s wonderful Boogie Nights blew me away just over a decade ago used Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil” as a premise for his latest film. It is an inspirational springboard that traces the evolution of Southern California’s petroleum boom during the first quarter of the 20th century via Daniel Day Lewis’s powerhouse portrayal of oilman Daniel Plainview. Although the distinguished English actor’s turn is definitive Oscar material, it is a tour de force that simply cannot be sustained throughout the excessive run time. The inalienable directorial right of final cut once again becomes a virtual boomerang that initially enthralls and then exhausts over one hundred and fifty eight minutes of celluloid that is sorely lacking structure and pace. A prime example is the ending of the film. This rapid fast-forward in time exuded an artificial, tacked-on quality instead of the crafted culmination of a masterful tale.
There Will Be Blood is a bravura one man show to the point of detriment. The principal supporting role of the youthful preacher-as-adversary (think of an adolescent Elmer Gantry on Vicadin) by Paul Dano was ultimately unconvincing, particularly when demonstrating his more devious side in private and then in the long waited, but predictable denouement. Dano had a tough road to hoe. The first actor cast in the part reportedly quit after being intimidated by Lewis’ blockbuster acting. In an interesting debut, youngster Dillon Freasier played Plainview’s young son and remarkably holds his own.. The rest of the supporting cast are faultlessly appearing ciphers or caricatures of little interest as their entire purpose is to provide a backdrop for Lewis who never relinquishes center stage. Paul Thomas Anderson should have taken greater note of the work of Tim Holt, Walter Huston, Bruce Bennett and Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of Sierra Madre.
The cinematography by Robert Elswit and production design, particularly the location filming in Marfa, Texas representing turn of the century Bakersfield is magnificent. There is a sequence of an oil well explosion and fire that is simply stunning. This visual panorama is intermittently disrupted by the original musical contributions of Radiohead rocker Jonny Greenwood. Enduring this abominable soundtrack reminded me of a story I heard Robert Towne relate about the initial musical score for Chinatown that was finally tossed out by director Roman Polanski after composer Bronislau Kaper told him the music was, “…an abomination on your movie”. Too bad Jerry Goldsmith wasn’t around for another 911 call.
Most of the cited issues with There Will be Blood could have been overlooked if Lewis’ transference from earnest oilman to paranoid Croesus elicited greater interest. This is the principle flaw of the movie. Don’t misunderstand; my expectations for a happy ending, deeper meaning or redemption were bupkiss. It was apparent early on that Plainview was a shit. The problem was that he was a boring shit. There was no spark, no layers of complexity, no diabolical charm, not too much of anything. Perhaps that was the point. In the end, I didn’t really care too much what happened to him and ended up not caring too much about There Will Be Blood. Yes, it is masterful looking film, but beyond that, there isn't much there. Paul Thomas Anderson is a superb filmmaker, but he needed to breathe much more depth into his main character and surround him with characters who mattered in order to reap full appreciation for all of the positive attributes of his movie.
In addition to Jerry Goldsmith, Anderson could have used some help from some other departed hands.
Anderson needed a Broni Kaper to tell him that his musical score sucked and while he was a