Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Review: There Will Be Blood

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. . .  I hate most people."
                                                                                                                                                  --Daniel Plainview

Daniel Plainview has done whatever it took him to get to the top of the oil business, to do deals with others to attain his wealth, success and seclusion. Although I won't say he wasn't an honest, hardworking businessman who took all the (nearly) legal steps to get to where he is by the end. Eventually spending his days shooting his rifle at random objects inside the halls of his mansion.

Drunk, dark, wobbly, and greasy. But alas, this is we feel, the payoff he has been working his whole life for. To do what he wants, inside his own walls, with only himself.

The two scenes that follow that introduction to Old Man Plainview are both, powerful, darkly comic and quite simply an astonishing show of an acting Grandmaster, who essentially, is just not acting anymore.

When we first meet him, we are accompanied by Johnny Greenwood's (Radiohead) haunting and ominous score. We are almost scared, because we are watching as the villain comes into power, there is no one around to stop him. And then, ambient noises from our surroundings. . . There are virtually no words spoken for nearly fifteen minutes.

He is digging for silver deposits deep in a well he has dug. We then find out, watching the heavily bearded man, why he slightly gimps as he walks for the remainder of the film. I must admit, my own leg might have felt uncomfortable while watching that extremity's backstory.

Three years later in 1902, he's now got men and an small oil rig working, attempting to find a small well and extricate the oil in it from deep in the earth. This involves drippy, sticky, wet, sloppy oil, upon oiliness. This little lesson in early engineering is fascinating as we watch the wooden version of the industrial strength got to work, and the men behind the tools find oil, and get at it.

Nine years later, he has a son, H.W. Plainview he's dressed in his own suit always at his side. He is his partner. Together they run a family business offering "the bond of family that very few oilmen can understand."

Thomas Anderson holds the camera steadily on his face, we see his new hat, cleaner mustache and signs of his wealth now. Lewis delivers his words with a gusto and swagger that only can readily be described as 100% captivating. Like any terrific college professor, you look forward to class just to watch them parade around the room, spouting knowledge and language. What is it about Daniel Day Lewis that glues us to the screen every time he's on it?

He tells the room full of property owners that he is is fixed like no one else in this business he tells an entire room full of a tract town of families, they are concerned about the buyouts and what they all stand to gain, and to loose more importantly. By the end of his great, powerful, steady and confidant words the room goes berserk and he walks out with H.W. in tow.

Before long, Paul Sunday (One of two Sunday brothers played by Paul Dano) comes to him from the broken down town of Little Boston, claiming oil is there from an earthquake. Plainview packs to go in  search and finds himself tested against Eli Sunday, the drilling in general, the townsfolk's undying Christian attitude, and old relative who pops up, and again, from Eli. Dano's Eli provides a goading antagonist and devilishly vengeful Christian profit to pick and poke at Lewis' Plainview, unearthing his emotions and trying his patience. All this presents an interesting introverted look into the man known as Daniel Plainview. Who's view on life is not so plain at all.

Paul Thomas Anderson, who gave us the spy-eye into the old days of porn with Boogie Nights, and the operatic and fantastical Magnolia, arguably Tom Cruise's most inspired and magnificent performance. He even took Adam Sandler, who goes so over-the-top and outlandish every time he makes a movie, it's hard to see how he even believes himself, and made him into a bona fide dramatic actor in a dramedy performance with just the quirk and twirk that the role required. Punch Drunk Love was a whimsically wonderful little movie I truly enjoyed.

(With a devilish smile of accomplishment) "There's a pipeline. . . There's a pipeline."
And now he's back with large landscapes (Teas doubling for the old west of California), long tracking shots and powerful scenes with quiet lows, and loud highs, if that makes sense. The camera pushes-in slowly and and holds steady. It pulls-out slowly (. . .I'm not going to say it) and swings and pans 'round with grace as we watch men, woman, children, oil workers, Plainview or even the land itself, move and breath around us. We get the sense that this world is real, and we are merely watching things unfold. We almost get the sense Anderson hate cuts, this time around at least, we are thankful for the slow-beats of the films heart.

This is no movie, sometimes it's sneak peek back into the past of the old west oil rush. Editor Dylan Tichenor Cinematographer Robert Elswit and Director Anderson work to give us truly enveloping shots that span largely across the screen and hold us there in their gentle embrace. There is an action film Roger Ebert reviewed, I swear I'll find it one day, where he talks about the amount of cuts in the editing, how one shot jumps from the next and the sense that anything truly organic could never happen because it moves to fast to allow it. I'm 99.9% positive it was a Michael Bay review I read. Makes perfect sense.

To that, I offer this gem of a turn-out in scene. The script merely says, "The baby, H.W. is the seat next to him awake and looking about." 

There is a scene in this movie between Daniel and his new son, H.W. Barely old enough to be called a toddler. The baby in the scene has no direction, and was no doubt chosen by the filmmakers who were told by his parents he's a quiet, well behaved little child. Well, sitting there on the train with daddy, the little one reaches up and begins to play with the large, oilman mustache and strong chin of Lewis, in awe and wonderment that such a thing can exist. Lewis reacts the way he should--he smiled and dotes on his "son." Such a thing, certainly not scripted, we are grateful for. Little details of authenticity and humaneness are cherished.

We only get one insightful conversation of where he hypocritcally (and drunkenly) explains himself. A porthole into the inner machinations of this man's mind, and we remember a line, oddly from my novel, "In Vino Veritas." No, I didn't come to it, it's Latin, meaning, "In wine, there's truth."

A truly great scene of dialogue (one of many where the darkness holds Plainview's face, keeping the rest of him in it's grasp as he seemingly basks in it looking so comfortable) we Plainview dispels his truly nasty nature and vile distaste for all humanity. For he is, in essence, a misanthrope. Oh tried and true is he. He tells the counterpart of his inebriated vocal discharging, "There are times where I look at people and I see nothing worth liking." In deed, Mr. Plainview does not. Shoving his tongue into his bottom lip, like the rattle of his snake tail, it lets you know when he's truly, agitated.

I spoke earlier of how Plainview is a villain. But I might be wrong about that. For most of this film, he is truly just an honest businessman with false patience, a hard stare and slow moving, precise words. People get their money's worth for their lots he buys and he has no reason to turn an entire town into a brand new community with schools and churches and crops and roads. He could have simply bought their lots for drilling and left them alone, right?

For the most part, he helps those who help him. You could argue he has a Robin Hood-esque sensibility. But of course, this gives way to his true nature of which he is driven by a soul of a black, bottomless pit of misery and despair.

This film, you can't exactly call a western, does share some similarities with two others, all three are period films, and in all three hard-staring men wear big ol' hats. Not to mention fight, yell, want/get money, or honor, embrace or run from evil, respect, love, battle for plain old survival and ponder God and what's really going on with that guy. No Country For Old Men was also filmed in Texas that same time. I can't say where Jesse James was filmed, but in 2007, I was grateful for three Western-esque films about men, about dirt, blood, passion and pressure.

As a portrait of how a man, born truly dastardly and vile, can decay over time, rotting from the inside the more and more he gains, this film is a mastercraft. Showing us the decadence of the human soul, and how deep into the darkness it is willing to dive.

There will be fire.
There will be conflict.
There will be booze.
There will be love.
There will perseverance.
There will be oil.
There will be milkshakes.
There will be blood.

Munki out.

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