First Impressions: There Will Be Blood

there-will-be-blood-225.jpgIt’s too early for a full review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and I don’t think I could possibly do this movie justice after one time through, but I wanted to get a few quick impressions on the record. Spoiler free and shrink wrapped for your protection.

First of all, I can’t remember enjoying watching someone act as much as I enjoyed watching Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Ok, I loved Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, but Lewis is in almost every scene of a difficult, 2 hour and 40 minute movie and he carries the thing for a large chunk of that running time. The first large portion of it, there is little to no dialogue, but Day-Lewis is completely captivating with just his physical presence.

He’s different in every movie he’s in. He doesn’t seem to rely on the same ticks and mannerisms that so many actors, even the great ones, seem to carry from one movie to the next. It’s as though he throws away his bag of tricks and starts from scratch for each movie. When the first trailer for There Will Be Blood started playing (I tried to avoid it but couldn’t stay away somehow), several people noted a certain similarity to his Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Seeing the performance in full, the two characters are light years apart. They share an intensity, but they are two fully realized, completely different, flesh and blood human beings.  So many actors seem to make careers out of repeating variations on a theme. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Day-Lewis is on another level entirely.The crazy part is that the man sitting on the stage politely answering stupid questions from the audience afterward is almost unrecognizable from the characters that so firmly stick in your mind. The voice of course is changed, but the body language, the carriage and the very facial expressions are of a totally different person. I guess that’s why they call it acting.

Despite my admiration for Day-Lewis, this was a difficult movie for me to warm up to. It went along for a good hour and a half with me liking it, but not being in love with it. It turned the corner in the final scene and completely won me over, but I have to admit I had my doubts if it was going to live up to the hype. Even so, I want to see it again before setting my opinions in stone. As a result, I wonder what its prospects for Oscar Best Picture will be. A lot of people who know a lot more about this kind of thing than I do seem to think it’s a lock, but what are the chances of a movie that needs to be seen at least twice to be fully appreciated? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s deserving, but I think it might be a tough sell especially to people watching it on Academy DVD screeners. Perhaps Academy members are sharper than me. Anyway, I hope they give it a chance. If it doesn’t get any hardware, it might be difficult putting this thing over to a mass audience.

There Will Be Blood is loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! It was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and it stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. It opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 26, 2007. Keep an eye out for it.

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20 thoughts on “First Impressions: There Will Be Blood

  1. Great first thoughts, Craig. I completely agree with your sentiments re Daniel Day-Lewis. I have little doubt this will go down as one of the great screen performances – whether or not the Academy recognize the fact.

  2. So you liked the ending, but had a little trouble in the middle…that’s a different impression from what I’ve been hearing. I can’t wait.

    I’m just thinking that this film wont live up to the hype of being “a tough sit” emotionally. I like dark subject matter. I see a red door and I want to paint it black.

  3. Thank you Sartre. Gotta love the DDL.

    Geoff, I don’t want to say too much about the ending because it’s spoilerville, but in the middle I was sitting there wondering if there was going to be a pay off or if it was just going to be a series of scenes of this guy being monstrous. The ending was hard, but it made the previous couple of hours worthwhile. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  4. Maybe it’s bad form to respond here to a comment from an entirely different blog, but I suspect that thread is dead. So: what was awesome, the spoiler gag, or my smackdown of Ian (he really does get more irritating by the day)?

    Looking forward to your detailed comments, particularly about the ending. Still haven’t made up my mind about it, and I may not until I’ve seen the film a second time.

  5. Bad form my ass. Wells doesn’t need the hits. The bit with the milkshake and the bowling was top shelf comedy. I borrowed a variation for an email (giving you full credit of course).

    The thing that bugs me about Ian is his need to tear down anything he doesn’t approve of, and he won’t shut up about things he likes. It’s especially annoying when he’s pissing on the campfire in the middle of a thread of people talking about how much they like something or how excited they are or whatever. And he does this daily.

    He’s another DZ.

    It would be best to ignore him I guess, but it’s just so tempting to swat him down from tmie to time, isn’t it?

    Like it or hate it, the ending to TWBB was surely something, wasn’t it?

  6. It was, indeed.

    As I said, I still haven’t decided if it’s a flaw or a logical progression.
    Maybe this is obvious, but you could say that the film is the story of a man who spirals downward even as he ascends to the pinnacle of success. It’s not so much a rise and fall as it is both, simultaneously.

    Dying to see it again.

    Aw heck, let’s get into now. I’ll be vague, but possible spoilers below:

    Do you think that he wanted (not necessarily consciously) to be caught and punished for his past behavior? Was his final action a way of throwing wrench into the wretched life he’d built, of doing something he knew he’d be held accountable for? Or will the event be swept under the rug because of his enormous wealth, allowing him to continue on his merry way? To me, the final line of dialogue suggests otherwise.

  7. Anyone consider that Ian and D.Z. are one in the same? They each have their own schtick but are pretty similar. Ian hates PTA unreasonably and doesn’t entertain debate. DZ hates Tarantino unreasonably and continually evades debate with one mindless non sequitur after another. Ian is more combative, DZ more illogical. But I think its the same guy.

  8. I’ve thought about that Chuck, but their verbal styles are so different he’d have to be really sharp or really insane. Like MPD insane. In the end, I guess he’s just another name for me to ignore regardless who is behind it.

    I hesitate to mention his name for fear he will appear like Rumpelstiltskin, but we haven’t heard from a certain BB from NYC in a while. It’s been nice.

    Frank. Spoilers. I can’t fathom his arc or the ending at this time. At this point, I question whether there was ever a shred of good in him or if any glimmer he showed was just a front. Because several people who’ve seen it more than once think there was, I’m leaning in that direction. But goddamn, there was such a feral pleasure in his literal smackdown of God Boy. It’s almost as though his motivation throughout the movie wasn’t greed, but to simply defeat his biggest competitor. If that’s the case, then his last line means he’s victorious and whatever happens afterwards is irrelevant. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t premeditated in which case he means he’s screwed. I don’t know, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it and I’ve got to find a way to see the damn thing again before December 26.

  9. Yes, I also fought in the Pod Wars at THB. McMahon and I were among those who had to harrass Poland to finally check the IP addresses in order to shut ol’ Hicksville down. Were you in on that, CJ? I didn’t really know you then.

    That guy was seriously deranged — he had about twelve IDs and would carry on conversations with himself. He wasn’t bright enough to vary his style, though, and his consistent spelling and grammatical errors are what gave him away.

    I think that D._Z. and I_n are two different kinds of crazy. Or rather, one has some form of OCD and the other is just an ass who writes bad plays.

    Back to the movie:

    I expected Eli to turn out to be more of a true opponent than he finally was. I thought that he would rise to power and seriously challenge Plainview. He humiliated him in front of the congregation, but after that he basically vanished from his life. By the end of the story, beating Eli wasn’t really much of a victory, since he was already on the rocks.

    So you’re saying Plainview was basically waiting all those years for Eli to come to him, just so he could tell him about the “straw and milkshake?” But then why the final blow, which was gratuitous? Why not let him walk off into the night, utterly defeated? Did he just get carried away?

    I think that in those final scenes, Eli may be a surrogate for H.W. He’s the recipient of Plainview’s rage over his adopted son’s departure. I also think that Plainview must have had at least some love for H.W. — otherwise, why would he have taken the perceived betrayal so hard?

    I find the story even more disturbing if Plainview originally had at least some good in him. Otherwise, he’s a Dr. Lecter-like cartoon villain.

    In any case, we’re gonna be talking about this one for a long time to come, which was most likely P.T.’s intention.

  10. I don’t hit THB much so I’m not privy to the controversy. When did all this go on?

    And yeah, for now I can only say Daniel Plainview is an enigma. Fascinating and captivating, but mysterious. It’s taken me a long time to get a grip on Magnolia (and I still haven’t completely) so there’s no reason to expect that There Will Be Blood would be easy to swallow.

  11. Oh, BB from NYC. I gotcha.

    I thought you meant Bicycle Bob, who turned out to be from New York state. Hicksville, to be precise.

    Must’ve been a couple of years ago. He was one of several VERY obnoxious posters who would completely derail the threads they posted on. Only it was all one guy.

    Several of us were literally begging DP to deal with the problem, or to at least trace the posts to see how many were coming from the same place. There’s a sad/hilarious thread in which his different “characters” are protesting this idea a bit too vigorously, like the Wizard ordering Dorothy not to look behind the curtain.
    “What a waste of time. No one cares, let’s talk about movies. Can’t we all just get along?”

    Poland finally listed his many user names and he vanished in a puff of smoke.

  12. One of the great things about art is how our response to it is an interaction between what the artist(s) intended and our own tastes, ways of looking at things, and personal experiences. We three saw the same film. Yet in some ways it feels like we didn’t. I certainly don’t think there is a “right way” to interpret Daniel Plainview. It’s just that I found nothing about him ambiguous, and little that was hateful until he ended each of the 3 key relationships – son, “brother”, and rival/symbolic brother. To me he clearly loved and took pleasure from his son. I’ve sent a spoiler-filled e-mail to Craig outlining the several scenes and what happened within them that I based this take on. And I also thought him more generally decent and thoughtful to others – e.g. showing genuine fellow-feeling re the death of an oil-hand and intervening to protect the Sunday girl from abuse.

    So for me there was a definite arc. And as such he was a truly tragic figure. As I’ve said elsewhere, these qualities or indications were understated and never long uncoupled from his less admirable ones. He was complex but not in a way that I found implausible or hermetic. People can and do operate on different levels – it is perfectly possible for someone to genuinely care about their son and still exploit the marketing value of having one. What I found more remarkable was that such an emotionally self-protective, competitive, manipulative, driven, and single-minded individual still had any room in his heart at all. And part of what made DDL’s performance so monumental for me was his ability to play a fully rounded character whose complexities fitted together in ways that rang true in even the smallest details. As I’ve said to Craig about the serious offenders I’ve worked with – they did monstrous things but they were not necessarily monsters. And I’m not saying that understanding the kinds of things that make sense of someone’s monstrous actions in anyway dilutes their responsibility and accountability. And its no compensation for their victims. But seeing an arc for Plainview is critical to discerning him as the self-hating, tortured individual I took him to be. Whose final wretchedness is the culmination of his increasingly prioritizing self-protection/imperviousness to being hurt by others. This made him tragic to me. I do think his actions in the final scene are in part sublimation of his feelings towards his son and his “false” brother. The only two characters he made himself truly vulnerable to during the years we track him.

    As for the ending, I think the simple statement was intended to cover all the things you guys have identified it might refer to. Whether he ultimately was held accountable or not for his actions seemed to me beside the point.

    The whole brother angle was fascinating. Paul and Eli (rearrange as “lie”) Sunday, Daniel and his “false” brother, Daniel and his real brother (via the diary), Daniel and Eli (Eli repeatedly calls in self protection durng the final scene ‘we’re brothers, Daniel’). I’m sure there’s some biblical allegory going on here. But I’m an atheist heading for Eternal damnation so I’m not familiar enough with the good book to pick it.

  13. Well said as always Sartre. I’m slowly warming up to this new way of thinking. I was too quick to take Plainview at his own word, but the clues were all there. Just because his early actions weren’t drowning in sentiment or weepy violin music, it’s easy to mistake them.

    I feel like I’m privy to some new shit. It’s changed my whole way of thinking.

  14. That’s a thought-provoking analysis, sartre — one that has me intrigued even more than before. From what little I know about the film (I haven’t seen it yet), I have a vague notion in my mind about what it’s saying — about that time in history and right up to the present. So I don’t expect an upbeat conclusion.

    Sight unseen, I anticipate that DDL’s characterization, if it’s similar in any way to the one in Gangs of New York, runs broader and deeper than the one in that earlier film — with stronger implications. When one sees a so-called tragic figure portrayed on film, sometimes the temptation for the filmmaker is to editorialize about the character, which may be easier for some viewers but, to me, often damages the film for the sake of commerciality.

    Color me anxious as hell.

  15. I predict Daniel Plainview will quickly make you forget about Bill The Butcher Pierre. It’s a richer, more subtle character. Nothing against Bill, he just felt more like a force of nature. Plainview had more nuance. I can’t wait to hear an actor’s take on it.

  16. I too can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the film and DDL’s performance, Pierre. And I’m in total agreement re Daniel Plainview and Bill being different characters. As Craig says, the former allowed the actor to show greater richness and nuance. That amazing performance still faintly lives on inside me even though more than a week has passed since we saw the film.

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