The title “There Will be Blood” suggests some sort of horror movie. When I first heard it, my thoughts immediately jumped to chainsaws, serial killers, dark rooms full of spiky objects, and gangsters. Strangely enough, for a movie that promises blood in the title, there is surprisingly little blood. The title’s not an outright lie–there are in fact two scenes in which blood is shed. There’s also quite a bit of slapping. But it is somewhat disappointing that, considering all the gory, gritty, dark, and violent movies out there with somewhat uninspiring titles, that the oh-so-evocative title “There Will be Blood” was wasted on a movie about oil. Admittedly, “There Will Be Oil” doesn’t have the same ring to it.
This movie is somewhat unconventional in that it doesn’t have a plot, per se. Things happen, yes, but they aren’t connected to each other-at least not in obvious ways. There Will Be Blood is more of a character study, an examination of how all the events in the movie play upon the emotions and psyche of the protagonist–an oil tycoon named Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis–and change him from a sleazy dirtbag who loves his son to an insane, evil, murdering psychopath who hates his son.
Let me say that Lewis does an amazing job here. He truly transforms himself into the character of Danel Plaiview. He’s got his mannerisms down pat, from the limp, to the whispery voice, to the hunching of the shoulders. He is so compelling that he manages to deliver such absurd lines as “I drink your milkshake” and “I am the Third Revelation!” and make them sound chilling. It is a rare actor who can go so off-the walls-crazy as Day-Lewis does here without compromising the seriousness of the movie.
Daniel Plainview’s nemesis is an equally insane pastor, played by a young actor named Paul Dano, a man who seems determined to prove that he can debate Day-Lewis at his own game and deliver an even more over-the-top performance. It’s up for debate whether or not he succeeded. One thing is sure, though–watching the two holler at each other about God can be pretty darn fun.
Be warned, though: at times, the performances of Day-Lewis and his nemesis, a young pastor who seems to be determined to beat Lewis at his own game, are, at times, the only thing keeping the movie afloat. There Will Be Blood is slow at a lot of parts, and while the end ties everything together and leaves you satisfied, the movie seems sometimes to dally unnecessarily in getting there. It runs about 2 hours and 40 minutes, and the 40 minute is mostly long shots of people riding around on horses or an oil derrick doing its thing. I’m not entirely sure what all these shots were for. Maybe to win the cinematography Oscar? If so, it worked. Could that time have been better spent in other ways? You betcha.
This is a movie that requires some degree of audience participation. It tells a story, to be sure, but because There Will Be Blood takes the epithet “show, don’t tell” to all new levels, the story has big blank spaces in it that the viewer has to fill in. We are given a few glimpses of Plainview’s life over the years and left to piece together a narrative that explains Plainview’s actions. On the one hand this can be annoying, but on the other hand, it is somewhat enjoyable to be left guessing, to have to figure out the internal motivations that lie behind our protagonist’s actions. It’s the sort of movie you what to talk about with your friends after watching it. Maybe whilst drinking a milkshake.
My one gripe about this movie, apart form its paraplegic pace, is the music. It’s your usual, cliche, standard Hollywood, crazy-person movie music–lots of twangy strings and weird percussion lacking any sort of melody. Completely un-hummable. It’s so loud and jarring that it makes you want to reach out and give the screen a shake, just to make it stop, dear God. Oh, wait, this was nominated for best original score? Wait, it WON? I can only assume that the Academy members’ thought process went something like this:
PLEASE, SWEET JESUS, MAKE IT STOP. We’ll do anything. Yes, we’ll give you the Oscar, just please, turn it off. And may we never have to hear it ever again so long as we shall live. Amen.
To be fair, there was one good song I remember–the one by Brahms that played at the end of the movie. The one not included for Oscar consideration, since it’s not part of the “original score.”