Posted on 8/05/11 05:50 PM
Sorry patient followers, but after a noticeably quiet absence (slightly due to a Hangover-style liquor induced blackout, but mostly by spending 5 weeks in Europe) in which All of the Lights was turned off, I have returned to once again, as if I ever really stopped, force-feeding my opinions down throat's. Right or wrong as they may be. But mostly right...
Today finds me at odds with a movie widely considered to be the best of 2008, There Will Be Blood. Based, in principle, on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, the film tells the fictional story of Daniel Plainview, from his start as a lowly mineral prospector to a tyrannical oil tycoon, and the personal relationships he destroys as a result of his monumental greed and inflated self view.
It has now been three years since the film was shafted at the 80th annual Academy Awards by a Cohen Bros. Production (yell at me all you want, I can't hear you anyway), but that is neither here nor there. It's just out there for you too see that even though it has been considered the best movie of that year, it didn't win the right awards to prove it, a la Social Network. However, in my eyes, this is the best film of this past decade, and for the following reasons:
Daniel Plainview (expertly played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in an Oscar winning performance- but more on this later) is the kind of character that any writer wishes they could have dreamed up. He is the worst kind of person, in fact as the minutes drag on we, as the audience, come to see him as the incarnation of what is wrong with the world (depending on your politics). His Cortezian (a word I just made up) greed, and desire for money make him the embodiment of capitalistic system where those in power have gone crazy with it. All this, plus he is a huge dick, shooting down and breaking the spirit of preacher man Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, of Little Miss Sunshine fame) and making life near impossible for his adopted son. And yet, despite my best efforts to despise him, I found myself rooting for the man to get what he wants. Even if it is power and land, and even though I know I shouldn't want to. I couldn't help it. Daniel Plainview is a tremendous character, and his life is one hell of a story.
Paul Thomas Anderson puts this film on his back and really accounts for 75% of the film's viewing pleasure. As the writer of the screenplay (based on a novel, not necessarily adapted from) and the director, he rivals a world class pastry chef. He puts together a winning recipe for Rhubarb pie but has to ultimately leave it up to the oven to cook the desert to perfection. The actors being the oven. From his mind he has created a world of greed and with an unforgiving air rivaling that of only Citizen Kane. From a purely visual standpoint his direction gives the audience the idea that they are watching the world's greatest western, when in fact the two bear no semblance. And within these breathtaking views of arid wasteland lie the film's best moments. The symbolism. Tucked in within the films 156 minute run time are competing religious and fiscal undertones, each at the forefront at one point or another. It's these two main forces that really drive the film forward and it's at their intersection where a life is destroyed.
Seeing as I mentioned Daniel Plainview, the juicy character first, in my glowing admiration for this film, it would be easy to discount the role that Daniel Day-Lewis and the other main actors play in this film. Easy, but ultimately ignorant. DDL as he will be known from now on to me, absolutely kills in this film- channeling everything Daniel Plainview is on paper, on screen. He takes it up a level as well, adding little idiosyncrasies and personal flourishes that make this character memorable, demonstrating to everyone why he is films greatest contemporary actor. Paul Dano is memorable as well, playing both Eli and Paul Sunday, the children of a landowner who is eventually bought out by Plainview. How he doesn't have steady work as a Hollywood actor is beyond my comprehension, and an issue for another time, and another place.
I can give this film no further praise other than to say it has been the best film I have seen. It takes risks with character and story that actually provides for a much improved film (much in the same way The Social Network portrayed Zuckerberg and Facebook), while still taking aim at life's biggest unanswerable questions- does god exist? what makes a person bad?- and searching for the answers.