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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Blood is brilliant

Published: January 25, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

IN COLD BLOOD: Daniel Day-Lewis in the dark costume of his There Will Be Blood character.Paul Thomas Anderson has never made a perfect movie. He has made three spectacular, if decidedly flawed, films. Boogie Nights was the epic, stylish saga of the 70s porn industry. Magnolia was a meditation on love, despair, and coincidence. Punch Drunk Love was a simple love story, filtered through a screen of extreme innocence.

P.T. Anderson is an excellent technical director, known primarily for the brilliantly orchestrated moments that are littered throughout his movies (i.e. the cocaine dealer sequence in Boogie Nights or the frogs in Magnolia).

But where his movies wow you, they leave you somewhat slighted. Sometimes he lets his ambitions get the best of him, and his movies, especially Magnolia, suffer from a sense that the director is too involved in his movie’s orchestration to fully develop a plausible and powerful resolution to the many problems posed. Even with these issues, whenever a new work from P.T. Anderson arrives, it is eagerly anticipated, as the one thing all of his previous movies have illustrated is that there are few as talented as this filmmaker.

And now we arrive at There Will Be Blood, the newest film by Anderson. It would not be a stretch to call Blood the best movie he has ever made. A dark character study of a Texas oilman and his competition, Anderson has stepped beyond (for the most part) the cloistering stylization that had run rampant throughout his past work. There are no overtly-coincidental interlocking stories. This movie is decidedly and only about Daniel Plainview, played with an unparalleled intensity by Daniel Day Lewis.

An epic film about greed, solitude, family, and sanity, this film is intensely epic from the first shots of the barren West Texas landscape to the operatic endpoint. The movie is an achievement for Anderson, as there is a sequences in this film that is truly mesmerizing. The first 20 minutes of the film are devoid of dialogue, as the audience is greeted by the quiet and dangerous world of oil prospecting.

Later, in a dazzling sequence of an oil well on fire, the overall power of P.T. Anderson’s directing is realized. Anderson is a master of mood through lighting and camera-work, and he nails Plainview’s darkness and desire. From a purely technical standpoint, this movie is the best of the year and rivals last year’s Children of Men in terms of pure innovation.

Although this movie is orchestrated by Anderson, Day Lewis is the face of this movie. Already regarded as one of the great actors of his day, this role might in the end become his most significant and career-defining. I have never witnessed anyone as intense as Day Lewis in this film.

His acting, at times very quiet, and later bursting and seething with rage and contempt is one of the most impressive performances by any actor anywhere. It’s just spectacular to watch as the movie progresses, to see his character’s anger slowly grow under the surface; and when he finally releases it, it is one of the most intense releases in film history.

Also it should be noted that Paul Dano is wonderfully creepy as Daniel Plainview’s foil, the local farm boy turned charlatan preacher.

However, for all the brilliant technical achievement and powerful performances, the movie leaves something to be desired. As a character study, it follows Plainview slow decline out of sanity one way while following his vanquishing of his enemies the other.

And for all of Anderson’s carefully considered intensity, the film’s last two scenes, the ones where Plainview finally releases his anger on everyone around him, unfortunately leave the film a little flat. These two scenes abandon the slow burn of the film for fiery, operatic, and over the top lunacy, which, while they stand as wonderful individual sequences, and are again quite brilliant from a technical standpoint, seem somewhat removed from the rest of the movie.

If the whole movie was a buildup to this point, it seems one crucial link was missed. That being said, the very last scene in There Will Be Blood is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in movies. I will say no more about it, but it’s awesome, in a way the final sequence of Scarface is.

Thus we have There Will Be Blood, a film I would call brilliant, one that deserves to be seen and enjoyed by many. This movie contains some of the highest caliber acting and directing of its kind. And while there is little like in the film-making world, the movie remains a work of flawed brilliance; the most interesting and excellently assembled, but ultimately not best, movie of the year.