Wednesday 5 March 2008

There Will Be Blood. A Review.

My word. What a brilliant piece of cinema. A magnificent and strange beast. An insistently grim and austere glance into the true depths of humanity. Depths that are seldom entertained. Depths that defy scrutiny. Depths that are nonetheless laid bare with a gripping level of exactitude and care by P.T. Anderson. A director at the very height of his considerable powers.

First, the technical stuff. The script? Measured and brilliant, the work of a scribe completely in tune with the possibilities of his medium... The direction? Utterly unequivocal. Anderson knows exactly where his film is going, exactly why it shall reach its crushing destination, and exactly how uncomfortable/entertained his audience should be. Those opening fourteen minutes without dialogue are mesmerising. I honestly cannot remember the last time I witnessed such exposition of character with such economy of technique.

The cinematography? This film is a collage of some of the most ruggedly gorgeous shots I have seen in years. Robert Elswit is a genius. Utilising only the listlessness of the harsh Texan terrain and the murky gloom of oil spurts and wood shacks, he weaves one hell of a tapestry. The verve with which that first explosion was orchestrated left me breathless. It sears itself into the mind of the viewer; the fire a moment of exponential beauty amidst the consuming darkness. Vivid, visceral.

The music? Atonal, challenging, yet always operating as an invaluable aid to the characters on screen. In my humble opinion, Johnny Greenwood has gone as far as to re-invent the motion picture score. His work here really is that good.

And now onto the main event... The performance. Daniel Day-Lewis will never better this. Consider those words again. I mean them. His Daniel Plainview is a creature for the annals. An elemental and brutal force, the very embodiment of hate and desire. So twisted is Plainview's soul that it manifests itself in his physical appearance. The further he strives to disconnect himself from all that is basically human -
"I want to earn enough money so I can get away from everyone" - the more golem like Day-Lewis' Plainview becomes. Eventually, he will limp, he will stagger, he will cough, yet importantly he will never relent. His voice will never quiver. And what an assured and charming voice it is too. Rich and textured, the vessel through which Plainview imparts many witticisms and wisdoms. Yet it never successfully disguises the viciousness within.

So what does it all mean? Who is Daniel Plainview? What is the point of There Will Be Blood, his story? Why should we care if he is just an evil bastard? Daniel Plainview is a metaphor. Daniel Plainview is greed. He is capitalism taken to its logical and unemotional conclusion. In fact, he is the very definition of meritocracy. Whilst intrinsically violent, he is nonetheless an impressively skilled and meticulous oilman. Be it through violence or trade, he will take what he is able to. Though you may wish it to be some form of quixotic nightmare, Plainview's course is clearly plotted via the core fundamentals of the American Dream. He
is Horatio Alger, mutilated or not. His resplendent physical ends justify his murderous means. Always.

Some people may find this excess to be offensive, even tedious. Some people may argue for a lack of redemption, a lack of soul. They will ask why Plainview is the man he has become. Why does he hate his fellow man to such an extent? What are the Freudian implications and subtexts to his misanthropic ways? Where is his back story? Did his mother not hug him enough?

Rubbish. Plainview's is not a world that permits such emotional and intellectual considerations. They are meandering follies drowning in his ceaseless vitriol. They are like the grandiose and delusional Eli (Paul Dano, also astounding). They too shall perish; screeching, limbs flailing in attempted escape from the incessant demon Planview. Curiosity is ego. Ego is humanity. And it is totally redundant... Uncomfortable yet? Yes? Then ask yourself why this is so.

The answer is simple. You are uncomfortable because you have done exactly what Anderson intended you to do. You have peered into a fragmented mirror of your own soul. You have recognised your inner Plainview, your own aberrant wishes and dreams... And uncomfortable as it may be, you must scrutinise him too. Remind him of your control over him. For in us all lies that potential for unfettered evil. In us all lies that untapped and immoral charisma. There is no reason for it. There is no structure to it. It has no narrative. It simple is, as it always has been, since first we came forth from the slime.

It cannot be ignored. Plainview cannot be ignored. This film is a total mindfuck. This film is an absolute masterpiece. I'm finished.


Ronan said...

Now this is the new(ish) journlaism! Utterly fantastic review my man! And yes.. that explosion scene with that music, worth the admission alone!

John Cav said...

Ronan: Cheers for the kind words dude. An amazing movie helps the reviewer though, to be fair :)

derfen said...

Draaaaaaiiiiiinage !!!!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review, thats why you got the blog award nomination. Now I really want to go see the film.

ronan said...

No probs, I'm well up for going to it again.. I think!

Peter Slattery said...

Excellent review. I echo the sentiments of the 'explosion' scene. It's astonishing and one of those scenes that not only burns onto the screen, but also into your mind. Amazing stuff.

Peter Slattery said...

Love the blog by the way. Congrats on the nomination!

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