Dave Newman says yes indeed, There Will Be Blood.
There is so much going on beneath the surface of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood that it would be impossible to cover everything it tries to accomplish here.
The film is overwhelming.
Despite its slow, measured pacing and sparse dialogue, every scene teems with subtext about the nature of greed and corruption. There are already countless reviews out there, with countless critics heaping the same praise and saying the same things:
Yes, the film is a near masterpiece, and unquestionably one of the best of the year.
Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is worthy of its Oscar nomination. I’d argue it’s one of the most dominant cinematic performances of recent film history.
And yes, the film looks beautiful, empty and vast.
If you’re a fan of patient, nuanced filmmaking, go see it in the theatres while you still can. A film like this has a short theatrical half-life, and in the theatre it’s larger than life.
One particular scene struck me as pivotal. Daniel Plainview, the Oil Man, wanders into the realm of Eli Sunday, the Man of God. His goal is clear. He’s trying to get a tract of land to build a pipeline for his oil, and in order to do this, he’s been asked by the landowner to attend a church service in their town and receive a blessing from Eli. Sounds simple enough, but within the context of the scene, it becomes a battle of wills. The Man of God hurls zealous reprimands at the Oil Man, berating him for his sins and forcing him to his knees for penance. At first, we’re uncomfortably aware that the Oil Man is going through the motions of religious ceremony, just as much as we’re aware of Eli hamming it up for the crowd. Toward the end of the scene though, there’s no doubting that Daniel is overcome with the fervor of Eli’s preaching. He begins to bellow at the top of his lungs for God’s forgiveness.
It’s a brief, sublime moment between two characters who haven’t—to put it lightly—seen eye-to-eye up until this point in the film.
And they never do again.
Both the Oil Man and the Man of God are able to manipulate people towards their own ends, and they both seem born to do what they do for a living, but, the movie seems to say, neither Daniel nor Eli gain any sense of purpose or satisfaction from that power. Both of them seem on the outside looking in, trying to understand how to best use their abilities for leverage against the forces the other represents. Such self-serving creatures could never peacefully coexist… which brings us to the film’s conclusion.
The final act of this movie is the only section which prevents me from calling it a perfect film. Without going into detail, the final half hour shows us the end result of these two men’s life work: they’re ruined men, consumed by greed and corruption to the point of desperation. Their final verbal sparring match is both virtuosic and emotionally hollow. Despite the sensational performances from the two actors, you can feel Anderson’s dialogue straining, and the Oil Man and the Man of God, who were once rich, multi-layered characters, now become mouthpieces for what the writer wants us to think about the characters. Much like P.T. Anderson’s previous outings Magnolia and Boogie Nights, this movie’s conclusion is going to be either loved or hated. Say what you want about the ending, it’s certainly a bold statement.
Then again, with a character like Daniel Plainview, you couldn’t have it any other way.
There Will Be Blood is showing at the Mount Pearl Shopping Centre Empire Cinemas. Call 722-5775 for times and prices.