There Will Be Blood (2007)

(In theaters, January 2008) Every year, I do what I’m told and check out the Oscar-nominated films, catching up what I haven’t yet seen. Usually, this is an exercise in tediousness: Oscar rarely agrees with the paying public, and there’s usually a reason why I haven’t yet chosen to see those nominated films. But I think of it as a master-class in respectable cinema. There Will Be Blood is one of those films that aren’t all that enjoyable, but are made of very impressive pieces. Daniel Day-Lewis is exceptional as the obsessed oilman around whom this film revolves, an ultra-capitalist who’s not above two or three shocking gestures to prove his point. The clipped delivery of his dialog is only one of the elements that make his performance impossible to miss. Other sections of the film also hold up, in particular the historical re-creation of the early California oil boom. But writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t particularly interested in an accessible piece of cinema: The soundtrack of the film is as deliberately grating as in Punch-Drunk Love and his family epic stutters on and off without much connecting tissue. The film is about thirty minutes too long and yet so much material is missing that it often feels more like a series of sketches (or snippets from Upton Sinclair’s original novel) than a coherent film. The shock value of his character’s sudden violence also wears off quickly, leaving little to process once it’s done with a bang. At some point, I even started musing about how a battle between capitalist and preacher isn’t all that different from yet another Alien vs Predator film: whoever wins, the rest of us lose. (Am I the only one who dares compare those two films?) (Also: and am I the only one who started imagining Daniel Day-Lewis doing a cover of Kelis’ “Milkshake” at the end?) Other directors would have been able to do much better with the same material, but here we’re stuck in a deliberately myopic view of a fascinating time with an even more mesmerizing character. But, hey, if that’s the kind of thing that the Academy likes…

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