Harry says Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a brilliant, masterful film! Daniel Day Lewis owns this year's Oscar!
Published at: Sept. 28, 2007, 6:44 p.m. CST by headgeek
As one of the programmers of FANTASTIC FEST, working hand in hand with Tim League, Matt Dentler and all the others – it's not often when you know you’ve hit the jackpot. About 3 weeks ago, we realized that we were going to be the first place on Planet Earth to screen THERE WILL BE BLOOD, based upon Upton Sinclair’s novel OIL! and adapted for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson.
As a genre festival – it didn’t entirely seem appropriate that the film would play, but Tim, Dentler and I discussed – at length – what this festival means to us. The tag line, “A Film Festival With The Boring Parts Cut Out” was coined by me. Our goal is to create a film festival made up of fantastic experiences, fantastic screenings and fantastic guests. Playing a film like PERSEPOLIS – an animated tale about growing up during the last 30 or so years in Iran… Doesn’t necessarily fit, but the film is FANTASTIC.
However, as I watched THERE WILL BE BLOOD last night for the very first time – I realized that to me, THERE WILL BE BLOOD embodies everything that I want from a film at Fantastic Fest. This is a film about the dark places in men’s souls. It is a film at the highest possible quality – comparable to many of my favorite films of all time. Movies about monsters on quests like CITIZEN KANE, TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE, GONE WITH THE WIND, GIANT, OLDBOY, THE GODFATHER and TAXI DRIVER.
When Upton Sinclair wrote OIL! – it was when he discovered how greed can destroy a community, here – PTA has created a masterpiece.
It begins simply – a lone man, digging down. Swinging his sparking pick-axe carving with a desperate drive to find gold. He places a stick of dynamite into a crack he made – lights it and gets out of the hole, trying desperately to pull his tools up with him. The blast goes off – he anxiously tries to make his way into the hole, only to fall and break his leg. There – at the bottom of this man made pit – he finds some gold. He stuffs some of the ore into his shirt and begins the desperate one legged climb out of the hole – pushing himself on his back, to where? We cut to him laying on his back inside a building where he’s selling his ore – it’s 1897 and he just made $347.
Next we cut back to the same hole – this time he has men working with him. This time, it’s a few years later – and they’re digging, by hand… for oil. Daniel Day Lewis’ character of Daniel Plainview is there in the pit – alongside another man digging – when the rigging above falls killing the other man. Daniel now has a son, his partner’s son. Shortly after, they strike oil. It’s hauled up by buckets. The buckets poured into a pool up on the surface to be placed in barrels for sale.
Through all of this – the men do not speak, they’re working with a determination. There is a drive in Daniel Plainview that is evident – he is not afraid of hard labor or pain. This is a man that will claim his fortune from the Earth. He will dig and claim it as his own. Like Dobbs or Scarlett O’Hara – he will never go hungry again. He’s been there and he will not go back.
We cut to a few years later – his adopted son and Daniel are dressed nicely addressing a community that has had a well come in. He’s working to gain their trust to allow him to develop the strike – the community is too excitable – each neighbor making demands, a cacophony of greed – Daniel leaves telling them, he would not develop their claim even if they gave it to him as a gift. This community had turned to wolves, and he is looking for sheep.
Daniel has one strong strike that’s paying him $5,000 a week in Oil production. But it is not enough for this man. He has a competition in him. He is driven to succeed without parallel. He begrudges paying for shipping, he begrudges the land owners that sit upon gold that they are not willing to work for to mine. HE made his wealth with his own hands – and if these people are too complacent, too lazy and too ignorant to work for their own riches – why should he hand them to them?
The contempt for humanity is palpable. In many ways the film, above all others, that this film reminds me of is Billy Wilder’s brilliant ACE IN THE HOLE (aka THE BIG CARNIVAL) – as it happens, earlier this day I was watching this classic Kirk Douglas movie on TCM – it seems the movie gods were smiling upon me – to make the comparison so ready, willing and available. In that film, Kirk Douglas is a man that is determined, no matter what, to use men as he saw fit to get his way back to the top. His actions are pre-meditated and cruel. He twists people, playing on their greed, fears and hopes to orchestrate his own success.
Daniel Plainview is of the same cloth. He’s a man that believes in revenge, that gives into anger and allows it to drive his success. He sees the world as a hard bitter cruel place where you have to be hard bitter and cruel to succeed. The only other person on the planet he loves is his son – but even there, he uses the image of his son to just gain the trust of others. He needs them to see him as a family man, because it’s easier to trust a family man.
His every action is premeditated.
That said – he is always ever that man we saw at the beginning of the film pounding his fortune out by his own blood, sweat and tears. As Plainview is clued into a community sitting upon an “ocean of oil” he sees his chance to be everything he’s ever wanted to be. A powerful man, a rich man – a man dependent upon no man. A chance to be independent, wealthy and successful.
This community has been untapped. He is the sole wolf hunting this community of sheep. He clues his son in on it all. Teaching him how to be as cut-throat as he. The film that follows exposes the greed of a “prophet” played by Paul Dano with the exact right level of Elmer Gantry-ism. You can see the ambition he has. The profit of being a prophet. More than that – you can see the contempt that Plainview has for what he considers a sly con man.
As tragedy hits Daniel’s life, as obstacles come, he brushes them to the side – it’s important that he win. He has to tie up the entire community to own the ocean of oil beneath it – then he needs to tie up the land he needs to build a pipeline.
What is it that makes this film utterly brilliant?
Well – as with all fantastic movies – it’s a combination of talents rising to the occasion.
First and foremost is Paul Thomas Anderson. He set out to make a film like TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE – and he did. His decisions with sound, image, dialogue and direction were all absolutely masterful. I know that’s easy to say, but his work here is just perfect. Like – at this one moment when two characters are brought back together after an amazingly bombastic scene… he serves it all in long shot – just hearing the voices. Not giving us the typical close-ups – rather letting us distill the emotion from the voice of Daniel Day Lewis in the scene. It’s incredibly powerful.
Did I mention Daniel Day Lewis? The man is in nearly every scene in the film. It is a legendary performance. Iconic and powerful. It is his absolute best work, which is saying something as he has never ever been anything other than great. Here though – he’s given a role that every great actor waits patiently for. Like Bogart and Dobbs. Like Brando and The Godfather. Like DeNiro with Raging Bull. Here you have an actor so alive, so vital and so naturally bigger than life that I was left in awe of the performance. This is not just the best performance of the year to date, but one of the great performance period.
Robert Elswit's photography is breathtaking. Amongst my favorite aspects of the film is the score, which was brilliantly created by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. The score is a direct echo of Daniel Plainview's soul... At times classical- quaint, at other times experimental and atonal - symbolizing the noise in his soul or echoing the pounding of the drilling for oil. The score and the use of it added towards the intensity of the experience.
A fellow critic at the screening began comparing the film to CITIZEN KANE, GIANT and other classics – it was nice to read that – because it meant I wasn’t the only one thinking that.
This film doesn’t hit till late December – but I’m telling you – when it does, hold on to your hat. It’s a gusher!