Friday, 29 August 2008

There Will Be Blood

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the creator of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, There Will Be Blood is dramatic, intense and frankly a little uncomfortable. Anderson’s style is easily identifiable, often allowing his films to display the grandeur of the world we inhabit while exposing the flaws of human emotion. He is undoubtedly a compelling filmmaker, capable of producing movies that are both fascinating and exhausting.

The film is set in the old west and the imagery that is delivered to the screen is a throwback to the days of John Ford. Anderson includes symbolism in abundance, using the beautiful landscape to narrate the film. The complex characters that inhabit the location are the driving force behind a multi-layered story.

Daniel Day-Lewis assumes the role of Daniel Plainview, an American oil tycoon with a feverous desire for power. Plainview is immediately unlikeable, often resorting to using his adopted son to gain credibility with the local towns-people that he seeks to purchase land from. They have an abundance of oil which he seeks to buy for a smaller fee than it should demand, using trickery and deceit.

He has the swagger of a detestable salesman with no interest in his profession or the consequences of his actions, instead choosing to care only about the money and power he can gather. It’s the outstanding skill of Daniel Day-Lewis that allows him to bring a theatrical and charismatic character to the screen whilst humanising him, highlighting his vulnerability and weakness.

His confrontation with church pastor Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is critical in establishing his moral sensibility. Sunday is quiet and calm; often only able to become animated when his faith is concerned. His evangelical preaching demands the embrace of Plainview, forcing him to step further into a community he wishes to exploit through deception and dishonesty.

The dialogue that’s exchanged is powerful, allowing Plainview to deliver superb lines articulated by a unique southern drawl. Accompanied by a soundtrack from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, the desert setting appears both barren and dark, allowing you to believe you’re watching it unfold in person.

Plainview’s struggles with his own conscience and the demands of Eli Sunday produce an emotionally draining finale. The story follows an extremely unlikeable character, allowing you to focus on the thoughts and feelings of somebody you would never really wish to meet. Their positions as unknown quantities makes the final scene exchanged between Plainview and Sunday so memorable.

The film was nominated in eight Academy Award categories, and the critical acclaim is justified. However, There Will Be Blood does stumble at some of the hurdles that stand before greatness. The runtime is very long and not entirely justifiable, leading the director to include scenes and detail that is not entirely necessary.

The overall problem I had with the film was finding an angle from which to derive some enjoyment. It’s both compelling and technically excellent, but also entirely draining and discomforting. The theatrical edge to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance cannot be critcised. His Oscar win was undoubtedly justified, and after being swept away by this performance moviegoers would be blessed were they to see a greater achievement in acting this year.

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