Thursday, February 7, 2008

There Will Be Brogue

Review: There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson, the eclectic visionary behind Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love, is not the sort of director anyone would call ordinary. Likewise Daniel Day-Lewis, the reigning king of method acting and denial of the Hollywood norm (the man once went off the grid for a couple years to become a cobbler in Italy. Serious.) Put the both of ‘em together and you get There Will Be Blood—a sprawling study in ambition, greed, and the California oil industry at the dawn of the 20th century.

The film opens with a visually stunning, dialogue-free scene of Daniel Plainview (Lewis) working solo to establish an oil well in the midst of god knows where. It masterfully establishes the setting, and frames Plainview as a man of hard work and dedication. Then he has to go and open his damn mouth.

There’s no denying that Daniel Day-Lewis is a fine actor. His commitment to getting inside the skin of his characters is admirable, and all of his hard work and research pays off. From early on, you can sense that this is a man who will simply not tolerate being second guessed, ordered around, or denied his own way, no matter how long it takes for him to have his vengeance. However, in portraying this ruthless man of early industry, he takes the performance one crucial step too far: a freaking wretched accent. Imagine Sean Connery doing an American accent for local theatre and you’re in the ballpark.

Putting all vocal misgivings aside, there is plenty to admire about TWBB. Especially supporting turns from Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine’s sullen mute, as a fire & brimstone preacher out to save Plainview’s soul (and maybe snag a little tithe action to build a new church), and a vastly underused Ciaran Hinds as his #2 man on the business side of things. I also was taken with Anderson’s shooting style and use of light, both of which make the film very immersive and natural.

As it stands, There Will Be Blood shows the potential to become another “industrialist descends into madness” classic in the vein of Citizen Kane and The Aviator, but its stubborn focus on character over context (and that kooky voice) robs the film of much of its power and makes portions of its nearly 3 hour running time feel like a chore. Get out and see it for Oscars homework, but pray for a snappier director’s cut DVD.



Emily said...

Thought of your blog when I came upon this:

Emily said...

and again, since the other link seems to have been . . . . interrupted, or something: