Thursday, January 10, 2008

There May Be Blood, But It Won't Be Mine

or, "Why I Won't Be Opening a Vein Over PT Anderson's Latest"

There Will Be Blood has ruined this year's movie awards season for me way more than the WGA and SAG boycotts have. Not because I hate it so much -- I'm more ambivalent than anything else and many parts were just as mesmerizing as every reviewer is saying -- but because it puts me in the position of hater towards a movie that seemingly everybody loves and a filmmaker who I love. And if Paul Thomas Anderson does finally get his first, overdue Best Director nomination, I won't be slapping blog-fives with anyone about it. And I hate that.

But I really didn't love There Will Be Blood. Serious, serious issues with that movie. I'm not going to do a capsule review for this one like I've been doing with the other Oscar contenders, but if you're looking for the best performance, it's Daniel Day Lewis, certainly. And its Oscar prospects are iffy but looking better every day. It's kind of hanging around the fifth slot in a bunch of key categories. As to the movie: stunningly shot, audaciously scored, the DDL performance is one for the annals of bugfuck insane performances of all time, and in the first 3/4 of the movie at least it's as fascinating a story of greed, ambition, and festering hatred as I've seen.

It's that last 1/4 that is the problem. Complaining about overlength sounds pedestrian when dealing with the "genius" at work here, but when the last 40 minutes fall apart they way they do here, it's certainly a valid complaint. The biggest problem, for me, is Paul Dano's character, both in the way he's written and in the way he's performed. I've been a Dano fan in the past, but the choices he makes in playing Eli the boy prophet, which were likely dictated by the script, just make things too...easy. He's too broad, he's too self-aware, and but for one scene in which a mud-covered and humiliated Eli pays that humiliation forward, he's nothing but an empty vessel for the idea of false piety. I think that's the way the character is written, largely, but I don't think it's very effective. When Anderson's film goes after the faithless preacher, it's reaching for low-hanging fruit. It's not satisfying -- actually, strike that: it's satisfying, but cheaply so. It's not earned as well as it could be. It's probably the main reason I thought that much-lauded ending was such a flailing, forced disappointment. Roger Ebert said the movie couldn't have ended any other way. I totally disagree with that. His thought process is correct -- and ending that purposefully over-the-top has to happen only when there is no other way. The rest of the story has to demand it. This story doesn't, and if they'd presented a version of Eli that wasn't such a self-aware cipher, maybe it would have.

This tends to happen with me and Paul Thomas Anderson. The final third of Boogie Nights dragged at times, though it's still one of my favorite movies. I still can't get behind the froggy Magnolia ending. Much like the TWBB finale, it's not that I don't get it -- I do -- it just doesn't work.

Hopefully this is the last you'll hear from me about this movie through the Oscars. I'm not going to grouse if it manages a Best Picture nod on nomination morning. Better to put poor Atonement out of its misery. But if Blood does get snubbed, I don't want to hear it about how the Academy never recognizes greatness, that the movie was too smart for middlebrow Hollywood, that it'll be a blight on Oscar's record on par with whatever the last unforgivable snub was. (The Academy's already fixing to reward greatness in its own time with No Country For Old Men, a movie with a controversial finale that does work.) But here I go, crapping on the "masterpiece" again. It's gonna be a long road to February.

7 comments:

Rural Juror said...

I'm gonna have to disagree. I have normally had no interest in PTA. I did not like Magnolia at all, but I thought There Will Be Blood was one of the best of the year. I loved Paul Dano as well.

Joe Reid said...

You won't be the only one, I'm sure. I'm getting used to it.

Nick said...

Well this ain't no romantic comedy joe

Joe Reid said...

I'm not sure what that means.

"Lady" Bea said...

Huh, yeah. It's interesting because I saw this last weekend with my brother who LOVED it and I still can't say what I really thought of it. Most of what you said did ring true for me. The film is an accomplishment, certainly for DDL and PTA. (Heh, acronyms!) And I did like Paul Dano (though I agree with your assessment of the WRITING of his character sometimes) and the little kid. The end didn't resonate with me and maybe that's because it felt unearned. Hmmm...

Deirdre said...

The Globe and Mail didn't love it unconditionally. I don't know if you consider that puts you in good company or not. I haven't seen it yet. I adore DDL but it's been hard for me to get over how much I loathed Magnolia - it's the only PTA film I've seen - but I expect the film's Oscar chances will eventually overcome my reluctance to spend another few hours of my life in the presence of Anderson's "genius." Give me Wes over Paul Thomas any day.

whammo said...

Thank you. I was sooo looking forward to this . . . I too rank Boogie Nights as one of my top 10 flicks and thought Magnolia was brilliant, frogs and all.

Just got home from seeing There May Be Blood, and I'm crushed by disappointment. The acting -- amazing. DDL should win the Oscar, and I thought Dano and the kid were both outstanding. It's also beautifully shot, and pieces of it are enthralling, but the narrative -- one hot mess. And, while I was ready to go by the time it was over, I remain convinced they must have lost the last reel.

I'm just glad to know that I'm not entirely alone.