There Will Be Blood
reviewed by Andrew James
Here is an example of a film that is both good and bad at the same time. It's so good and so bad that it's difficult to assign a star rating. Certain aspects of the picture are unbelievably well crafted, deserve huge accolades and will undoubtedly receive several Oscar nominations. At the same time, the story itself is flawed and disjointed.
We open the film on a desert plain where we see a prospector, Daniel (Daniel Day-Lewis), mining for gold/silver. The following 20 minutes or so focus on Daniel's trials and tribulations as he rises in the "ranks" of a struggling miner working by himself, to slowly developing a team of helping hands, conceiving a business and working with more and more complex tools and machinery. Completely devoid of any dialogue or score and simply letting the visuals tell the story, this is one of the best sequences within the entire film.
This is the gist. Of course there is more to it than that, with several inconsequential plot threads within an atypical running length of over 2 1/2 hours. The timeline shoots ahead several years at various points throughout the picture which can make for a little bit of a jarring experience. The audience is left without some closure at various points and maybe left wondering what happened to so-and-so and why?
Daniel Day-Lewis will see huge praise for his performance as a greedy, heartless man who must appear like a caring and compassionate individual. Without him, I think the movie would largely become a critical failure as he is able to capture our attention with his piercing stares and his natural ability to manipulate people. While it is a riveting performance, I couldn't help but constantly be reminded of Hugo Weaving's performance in the Matrix trilogy. Day-Lewis and Weaving have the exact same vocal range and intonations for their respective roles and I couldn't shake the feeling that at any moment, Daniel would start referring to people as "Mis. ter. An. derson." However, his slowly degrading mental health is very evident throughout the picture and is captivating.
No one else in the movie really has much screen time. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), who plays Eli, has a few moments that might be interesting to some, but other than that, this is all Day-Lewis' movie. Basically, the film treats all of its characters the same way Daniel does; using them like Kleenex before discarding them when they're no longer of use.
The true character of the film is it's technical side. First and foremost, the score. The opening shot has one of the more attention grabbing, ambience scores you're likely to hear. Jonny Greenwood of the band, "Radiohead," has put together something truly unique that immediately grabs the viewer and makes them a listener as well. I talk alot about a film's score and its importance; when it's needed and when it becomes a nuisance. In this case, it may not be needed, but it adds so much flavor to the screen that if it weren't so damn cool with intense, emotional impact, it would be distracting in its volume and heavy, rhythmic complexities.
For those who found greatness in the look and style of films such as No Country for Old Men or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, you'll find yourself seeing more of the same wondrous style here. Anderson, using his usual cinematographer (Robert Elswit - Good Night and Good Luck), showcases gorgeaous landscapes and lighting technique that is very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. From dark mine shafts, to desert vistas, to silhouette shots against a raging oil fire, nearly every shot is something to behold. At times, along with the unique music track, the style is very reminiscent of the later works of Stanley Kubrick.
The ultimate goal of the film, it seems, is to cover one man's journey and convince the audience that the consequences for lusting after wealth and power with no regard to others is a shallow endeavor and will leave you soulless and barely a shell of a man. The problem is with the way the story is written. We get all the details throughout the film pointing to the fact that greed is bad, but there's no overlying story arch. Upon closer examination, it's just a slow moving, series of events that shape a man's life.
With plenty of character development (for only Daniel) and impressive acting (again, only for Day-Lewis); as well as a wonderful technical achievement, There Will be Blood scores high marks. But on pacing and story development, there's really not much here. With the film's final act (guess what it contains), there's very little emotional impact, sympathy or empathy for any of the characters involved, since we only spent time with Daniel and his greedy business practices. Although a bunch of "stuff" happens, nothing actually happens to complete a relevant or interesting storyline. Sure to receive loads of critical acclaim for its technical mastery, for me, There Will Be Blood is one of the mediocre pictures of the year. Although admittedly, this seems to me to be a film worth giving a second try. My guess is it will acquire a richer flavor with subsequent viewings.
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Flixster Profile for THERE WILL BE BLOOD