Sunday, January 27, 2008

There Will Be Blood (review)

daniel day lewis

There Will Be Blood is astoundingly good. Slow and stark--it's more like Welles and Kubrick--with a nod perhaps to von Stroheim--than Altman, to whom the film is dedicated and whose influence is clearer in Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier films Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

As I see it, it's a movie about American capitalism and American religion--and what must have been a conflict between the two at one time, in the early 20th century. The iconography and character names invoke the Old Testament--but the tone of the movie is modernist and skeptical--without the aloof irony of post-modernism.

The influence of the best silent-era films is very evident. Use of visual parallels--railroad tracks at the beginning of the film matched with bowling-alley lanes at the end; pools of oil matched with pools of blood--reinforce Anderson's seriousness as an artist--a director (like all the best directors) concerned with telling stories through montage and motion than strictly through dialogue and characterization.

Even though I was sometimes impatient with the movie's pace, I realize now that large parts of it are wedged in my consciousness, no doubt for good.

The performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano progress from near muteness to over-the-top scenery-chewing--but the escalation seems deliberate and significant in a film that begins in a hole in the ground and ends in a Xanadu-like mansion.

Even the musical score is risk-taking--traditional music combined with Arvo Part and drumming electronica.

I've never read Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel (Oil!), but the film has made me curious about it.

The film is not hard to fathom--it's surprisingly (shockingly?) direct in its message--though its artistic ambition may make it a puzzle to audiences primed for action-adventure or lush historical drama.

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