2007 was, in my opinion, a weak year for Hollywood. At some point in late spring it seemed that the summer movie season had been set up to be especially uninteresting. Despite featuring everybody’s hero Johnny D., Pirates III failed to entice me to part with anything green. Bourne III also came and went with the same effect.
Meanwhile, while commuting to the office, I thoroughly enjoyed two really engrossing audio books: Mr. Wilson’s War and No Country For Old Men.
The fall movie fare was equally dismal, though the family did go and take in that most unusual Sixties reprise, Across the Universe. As we tiptoed toward the year’s Christmas culmination, it was with great exhilaration that I learned that both audio books which I so thoroughly enjoyed had been made into films, and I knew that I’d find a way to see each of them.
For some reason this film, There Will Be Blood, never crossed my radar. I have been a strong admirer of some of the work Daniel Day-Lewis has produced, beginning with My Left Foot, the film that for me put him on the map as a serious actor.
As Oscar season approached Day-Lewis buzz was all the rage. This film, written, directed and produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, had created a phenomenal opportunity for Day-Lewis to shine, if you call being a very dark-hearted character shining. Anderson was the director of Magnolia, a film heavily populated by tragic and pathetic characters.
There Will Be Blood is primarily a character study of one character, Daniel Plainview, as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis. It could be argued that Eli Sunday is also a character in the story, but his role seems more as a foil for the singular story of Plainview.
Anderson’s achievement here has him being compared to Kubrick, which is saying plenty. Some say it was with great intentionality that he has become more like Kubrick, specifically in the manner in which the story is told. The eye of the camera is all. The film exemplifies the preeminent rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell.
For this reason we are never “told” the motivations of characters. We extrapolate motivations by the behaviors revealed by the camera's lens. At one point Daniel Plainview states outright, "I don't like to explain myself."
This style of film making is much like life. People seldom explain the why of their behaviors. Often they do not even understand themselves the why of what they do. Yet we can see who they are by what they do. Sort of. Every picture tells a story, but it takes a lifetime of pictures to fill out the full orb. This film strings together the key pictures of a man’s life, the hardening of a very hard man.
The soundtrack of this film exacerbates the tensions whirling about inside its central character. The strings, rhythms, syncopated percussion, create a disconcerting, grating feeling. The irresolution and intensity of the strings is most effective in leaving viewers unsettled and uncomfortable.
The film does have its critics. It is not a pleasant experience. But it is a powerful film, and Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible to the end.