Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Momentum VI: There Will Be Blood

"I'm finished" an exhausted Daniel Plainview says. Back facing the screen. Sitting in a bowling alley that is Kubrick-like in its symmetry. How did we get to this point is the same question we probably asked ourselves of Magnolia. The difference is the only thing falling from the skies this time is the oil that spews out of a derrick with a towering presence as large as Daniel Plainview's character itself. Right off the bat, the title promises blood. We can sense it in the foreboding air of doom that bubbles from the surface like a pocket of crude oil. & by the end of it all, we get it.

There Will Be Blood is a film that will invoke strong reaction. Considering the pacing, it has more to do with a novel than a film. It falls in the novelistic approach. Loosely based on the Upton Sinclair book Oil!, the director wrote alot of original material for it. It captures a time and place in the American West during the turn of the 20th century. From a photography standpoint, Robert Elswit shoots the panoramas and landscapes with a bold and watchful eye. Helping recreate the sense of ambition amongst dwellers of both oil and religion.

The long takes. The wide shots. Holding a frame. It allows the film space to breathe. You don't need superfluous coverage when one shot will do. Kubrick may no longer be alive but his children are hard at work. In the long run, this is the picture that calls for this type of filming out of all of his films. It's not fast paced and packed with characters like Boogie Nights & Magnolia. In fact, if Boogie Nights was soul, this would be classical. Not the average period piece classical like Beethoven. Alot rougher around the edges ala Penderecki.

These rough edges around this picture are pierced and knotted into a startling tapestry created by Johnny Greenwood's score. A bold and unconventional score at that. Pushing the viewer to uncomfortable places.

The opening 20 minutes of the film set the tone for the story to follow. In it Plainview falls down a mineshaft and injures his leg. Driven with determination, he musters his strength to climb out of the mine. No dialogue need be spoken to tell us the characteristics of this gristled prospector. Who now lay in an assayer's office waiting for his money.

At its core it is a character piece. Plainview is a tricky character to gauge. Full of contradictions. Plainview's quest for fortune soon becomes as vast as the vistas and terrain he crosses with his partner H.W. Taking on and eventually defeating all his rivals. The bond between Daniel & H.W. develops in the 2nd act when he is made deaf from an oil blast. This bond is interrupted by the supposed long lost brother which could have gone in the wrong direction, but here it doesn't. Then there's Eli Sunday. A man of faith who will eventually learn the hard way what happens when you step over the line in a bowling alley. & not in the Walter Sobchek way either.

An argument I've seen against Plainview's character is that he doesn't evolve. He remains the same man as the beginning. What makes him such a fascinating character & one of the best of the last decade is his ongoing competitive streak. We want to feel sympathy for him. And as the H.W. bond dries up and Daniel reduces him to nothing more than a 'bastard in a basket' it is striking. Heart as black as the oil he once drilled.

It is only until the final scenes of him in his mansion made for the wealthiest of men, that we can finally accept the point of no return for this character. The theatrical performance of Daniel Day Lewis is on full display here. When seeing this in the theater, people erupted with cackles and howls at the milkshake scene in the bowling alley. It is a phrase that has since made it on to T-shirts & even parodied on Saturday Night Live. But the thing that silenced the coos of laughter in the theater that day was a vicious blow to Eli's head with a bowling pin. Then another. Everyone remained silent until Plainview uttered those famous last words and the strings came on.

Around the 3rd act, the timeline jumps to Daniel in his mansion. I have no problem with this but I would like to see the missing chapters. This is the kind of story that would be perfectly suited for 3 hours. It just seemed the canvas Anderson was painted on was intended to be even bigger.

If there's anything Anderson's career path has told us it is that his aesthetic refuses to be tied down to a single trait. Mature gets thrown around alot these days. If there's a word to sum up Anderson's aesthetic at this point it would be confidence. He's given us some great cinematic characters in Dirk Diggler, Jim Kurring and Daniel Plainview. I can't wait to see what he'll give us next. Hopefully Inherent Vice or whatever it will become comes out soon. With Smith & Soderbergh supposedly hanging up their director caps in the future, the 'indie generation' of the 90's is certainly going to be smaller.

Oh and one other thing. There will be another one of these director series coming soon.

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