DDLJ

Daniel Day-Lewis ki Jai!  May he win his second Best Actor Oscar (after My Left Foot in 1990) in a few hours.  He deserves it, in his towering, glowering majesty.  And yet, I didn’t find There Will Be Blood isn’t as bloody good as (almost) every critic calls it.I went in with expectations gushing out of me like, ummm… oil from one of Daniel Plainview’s (Day-Lewis) wells.  After a promising start in a mine that sets up the time, place and Plainview’s essential characteristics, the movie meanders along for over two hours, till it is all rushed up in the end with a revelation that changes everything in the movie and a finale in a bowling alley that is rightly the subject of a thousand parodies.  In that sense it reminded me of another gorgeous film that lost me in its character development – the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There from 2004.  So Plainview is a mean ole’ SOB who gets what he wants – family, friendship and finer emotions be damned.  He doesn’t trust anyone, and doesn’t seem to have a friend in the world, just like any other cute and cuddly capitalist from the turn of the (19th) century.  But right through the movie, I get the impression that, like Plainview’s oil wells, there is something simmering under the surface that is hidden carefully behind his clearly enunciated dialogues and well groomed moustache.  I wish some of that came out more evenly, and not just in those intense scenes with his son (Dillon Freasier), ‘half-brother’ (Kevin J O’Connor) and his preacher/ faith-healer rival (Paul Dano).  Compared to Plainview, they both look so insignificant and meagre, one wonders off the bat as to why he doesn’t just swat them off.  Only his business rivals, like some of his fellow wildcatters and the representatives from Standard Oil look like they could stand up to him, but they barely register.  Daniel Plainview, we hardly knew ye.There is, of course, a lot to admire in TWBB.  Paul Thomas Anderson is an exciting director.  Magnolia is the movie most similar to TWBB, with a patriarch (Jason Robards) and a motivational speaker (brilliantly played by Tom Cruise) and underlying biblical and gothic references.  He seems to have drawn heavily from the Hollywood movie mythos, with the first scene eerily reminscent of The Treasure of Sierra Madre and the final few scenes of Plainview in his sepulchral house an obvious homage to Citizen Kane, that other American megalomaniac.  Stroheim’s Greed and Polanski’s Chinatown are two other references mentioned in articles, but I can’t vouch for them.  Anderson and production designer Jack Fisk (who worked in all the Terence Malick movies) get the look and feel of those times perfectly, for this is a movie very much of a when and a where, and sitting in an empty multiplex (I was the only one in the weeknight 10pm show) I could smell the dust and taste the slimy oil.  Almost matching Day-Lewis in a difficult role is Little Miss Sunshine’s silent brother, Paul Dano.  But just as it was difficult to accept Jack The Ripper’s claim in the Hughes brothers’ 2001 movie version of ‘From Hell’ that “One day men will look back and say that I gave birth to the twentieth century”, it requires some work to extrapolate the twin obsessions of religious fundamentalism and rapacious industry that has largely defined twentieth century America, as various fans of the movie have pointed out, from 158 minutes of There Will Be Blood.  Though thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson and his crew come to a whisker’s length.  And for that, Day-Lewis deserves his statuette tonight. 

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