Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There Was Some Blood

So, can you believe that the same guy who directed Boogie Nights and Magnolia went on to make Punch-Drunk Love? And then, after making what was essentially a romantic comedy – a film that it'd be hard not to label 'quirky' or 'sweet' – he leapt off into this? I thought that was a little strange, but then I remembered that he'd also made Hard Eight, and with that in mind the progression seemed to make a little more sense. Hard Eight and There Will Be Blood both revolve so much around the quiet (or not so quiet) character details, and so many clever observations of human behaviour. But while Hard Eight feels relatively 'soft' – melancholic, maybe even sardonic – on the other hand, crickets! There Will Be Blood is a block of wood which crushes your skull.
It's one of those films where half the audience are pissed off because the other half keep laughing inappropriately. Laughing, a little shocked (& a little nervous, maybe) only to to fall silent whenever events keep going beyond a jolt. As they generally do, here: this is not a film which holds back from violence or tragedy. It felt gloriously brutal and terrifyingly sad, to me, but the fact that it really, genuinely felt like something is what's stuck with me. (Am I just looking to films for a vicarious fix of emotion or sensation, then? Aw... man, ain't that what all cultural creativity is for, more or less?)
The main character (Daniel Day-Lewis awesome blah blah oscar blah) made a superb and sympathetic protagonist, despite being something of a misanthrope and borderline sociopath. (On the other hand, I'm the kind of person who thinks Patrick Bateman is ultimately sympathetic, depending on how he's read... & the line between empathy and sympathy is always tricky, sure). The opening sequence, for one thing: Daniel Day-Lewis as the lone miner making his life in dirt and rock. I thought as a piece of filmic storytelling it was excellent, but what was really great was the subtle way it set up the background of the character's psychology. Those few minutes of the man digging in a hole, alone and almost entirely wordless, not only sketched a character outline but also offered and interesting argument to his later actions. The later parts of the film wouldn't work nearly so well without the echo of this opening sequence.
Audiences laughing inappropriately. Normally that kind of thing infuriates me to the point of distraction, but tonight it was just noise to me. Am I expecting that sort of thing now, getting used to it? Or was There Will Be Blood so engrossing that I was just genuinely, uh, engrossed? Dirt, oil, violence, lies... I think I also like that it was set in the early 20th century. I guess it's the time period that would be Edwardian, except it's in America (so, would that be McKinleyan-to-Teddy-Rooseveltian? Or William Howard Taftian, in this precise case?). It's not an historical period that you see much of, but I think it's an interesting one. Particularly in America, where it's such a strange transitional period between the Old West Frontier kind of feel and the post-WW1 Industrial Powerhouse Ragtime Nation (not to mention the subsequent Prohibition, Dust Bowl 1930s etc etc). Come to think of it, the only other films I can recall set around that era are also films I've really loved – Days of Heaven, Duck You Sucker. And Heaven's Gate, though I guess that was really 1890s, half a generation earlier. And, ooh! Return To Oz!
Anyhow... what about the ending? I found it hard to get a clear apprehension of it – I guess by this stage the inappropriate laughter actually was distracting. Did that final confrontation cross a line, did it edge away from the harsh realism governing the rest of the film in favour of something more... operatic, maybe? I'd like to see it again. Either way, I think There Will Be Blood is a hell of a film. And it managed to criticise a religious movement without caving in at some point, or otherwise apologetically qualifying its critique... and that's a rare thing from an American film, these days. Kudos etc.
Oh, and also: that scene when Daniel Day-Lewis and his brother have been swimming in the ocean, but the brother sits exhausted in the shadows, head bowed. The lighting and the body language, the whole thing was just brilliant. And I haven't even mentioned the soundtrack, which is what really made everything work – Jonny Greenwood knows what he's doing, for sure.
So yeah, I liked it a lot.
-the Cinematic Thoapsl

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