WHAP Reviews: There Will Be Blood

January 17, 2008

Occasionally, traditions of pop culture will overwhelm us here at WHAP, and we’ll break voice to actually sound like those critics we love to bash. We’re nothing if not hypocritical.

If sex is the most unifying tool for production studios to use with the twentysomething demographic, violence is the most polarizing. Some will see movies merely because they heard a man dies with a knife through the eye, and some will avoid it because they heard it contains a gunshot.

As a result, “There Will Be Blood” as a title has a visceral effect that narrows an audience. In talking to peers about the movie — peers that haven’t seen it, mind you — the response has been one of two things: “Sounds like my kind of movie” or “That doesn’t sound like something I’d like.” If we’re being sexist, I think you can guess in what groups males and females most often align.

But to disappoint the “Eastern Promises” and “300” fans out there, “TWBB” is not a movie about blood, or certainly not directly. Rather, the movie is about the emptiness too often found while praying at the altars of money or God. The two juxtapose each other, with Daniel Day-Lewis the face of greed, and Paul Dano as the falsest prophet in recent memory.

It’s a movie to be appreciated, at the very least, for the unlikely career intersection of Day-Lewis and director P.T. Anderson. The lead actor has made just eight movies since his Oscar for playing Christy Brown in 1990, and just three in the last ten years. P.T. Anderson, who also adapted the story from an Upton Sinclair novel, is a fellow recluse, with just five feature films under his belt since “Hard Eight” in 1996.

For disclosure, I’m not familiar much with the work of either, but don’t be surprised if loyal fans highlight “There Will Be Blood” as the pinnacle for each artist’s career. While fearful of hyperbole, I’d venture Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Daniel Plainview is the best single acting performance since Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.” Method acting is losing its stranglehold in Hollywood, so Plainview could be one of the last characters of his kind.

Plainview is a silver miner converted into an oil man, tunnel-viewed into the means to a monetary end. But deep down, there is an indiscernible, but existent underbelly. There is a man that wants to believe in family and religion underneath, but when he experiments with both, his worldview is tarnished by betrayal. In the movie’s silent beginning, Plainview adopts the son of a fallen co-worker with one purpose in mind: family business. At business meetings, he cutely refers to the pre-adolescent “H.W.” (first-time actor Dillon Freasier) as his partner.

Later in the story, Plainview’s family business is turned upside-down when H.W. is deafened by being too near an explosion. Plainview has lost his business partner, and when a man comes into town claiming to be his brother (Kevin J. O’Connor), Plainview abandons the son and takes in Henry. It’s obvious to the audience that the man is not his brother, but Plainview’s need for someone clouds his view. When the latter proves a fraud, Plainview loses his top for good. His hypocrisy only speaks to his unrelenting selfishness. He is let down when he adopts a family member to be a business partner, and he is let down when he adopts a business parter to be a family member.

In a perfect world, Plainview would be able to find himself by turning to religion. But the only religion in the town Plainview exploits for oil is through Eli Sunday, an actor with a belief in God and far-reaching goals. In a moment, you can see Plainview want to believe in the healing powers of Sunday, but after H.W.’s deafening proves not to be temporary, Sunday is exposed in Plainview’s mind for the fraud he is.

Both stand at the pinnacle of the town’s power structure, and the movie is a story of their clashes that will stay in our memory. Neither is a protagonist, neither is a likable character. While P.T. Anderson movies are renowned for bringing a slew of characters together, “There Will Be Blood” is merely a collision course of two driving ideals and the characters behind them.

It’s Anderson that makes this movie what it becomes, as the images of the movie dominate all else. Anderson’s script is good, but in a year as loaded as 2007, it doesn’t stand out. Rather, it’s the directing of the movie that seems Anderson’s biggest strength, it’s his directing that seems the product of a film lover. Another Wet Hot co-writer believes the movie is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick, the film reminiscent at times to “The Shining.” And like the shining “TWBB” has the sounds of a movie that will stand the test of time, eery silences and a score — thanks to Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood — that rings perfect.

On the page, in this review, I’m afraid to have written “There Will Be Blood” as not even just the movie of the year, but the movie of the generation. It is not that, for it’s a workout in viewership that will turn off a great many. But with an open and attentive mind, there’s genius. It’s the directing of the year, and the acting of the decade. And, perhaps most memorably, it might have the line of the generation…

Bryan’s Top 5 Movies of 2007:

1. Juno
2. Into the Wild
3. Atonement
4. There Will Be Blood
5. Away From Her