Variety's Todd McCarthy delivers a rave review of Paul Thomas Anderson's much-anticipated There Will Be Blood. We saw it at the same screening on Friday last week. McCarthy wanted to take his time with this review, and not rush it out the door. Here's a sample:
Officially penning an adaptation for the first time, Anderson turns out to have been inspired very loosely indeed by his source, Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!" Pic betrays little of the tome's overview and virtually none of socialist Sinclair's muckraking instincts. Instead, it is more interested in language, in the twinned aspects of industry and religion on the landscape of American progress and, above all, in creating an obsessive, almost microscopically observed study of an extreme sociopath who determinedly destroys his ties to other human beings.
Notwithstanding its passing resemblance to "Citizen Kane," this theme is an odd one on which to build a big movie, especially in view of the extreme manner in which it ends; one can only guess at Anderson's personal reasons for dwelling on it with such unremitting fervor. But his commitment to going all the way must be respected in the face of conventional commercial considerations. Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview is a profoundly anti-social fellow, malevolently so, and "There Will Be Blood" devotes itself to scratching, peeling and digging away at a man determined to divest himself of his past and everyone associated with it.
Here's the trailer:
My take on the movie: it is brilliantly written, acted, directed, mounted and scored. Like the novel, it reveals a key aspect of the American character. The oil catter played by Daniel Day-Lewis--who gives a towering performance sure to earn him award consideration--is driven, powerful, tenacious, and greedy. He is the sort of man who made this country, and still does. But he is also deeply sociopathic.
In some ways the movie is a companion piece to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Americans are a remarkably violent people. Our country breeds and foments violence. But the movie's dark, grim, assaultive nature, and the finale that does not offer any light in the darkness, will drive many viewers away, especially women. It's an art-house movie for smart people with strong stomachs. Cinephiles will revel in this. As a writer-director, PTA will earn the respect of critics and peers. But a wide-audience spectacle this is not.
PTA lacks that warm touch that can open a movie up to a broader swath of viewers--compare this to the Coens' No Country for Old Men. That movie in its way also reveals the darkness in mens' souls. But there are many people--like Tommy Lee Jones' sheriff--fighting the good fight. Even if they lose, they are still fighting.
Finally, There Will Be Blood's greatest achievement is Day-Lewis's performance. He brings humanity to a character who might otherwise not have any, as interpreted by another actor.
UPDATE: Here's another rave from In Contention's Kris Tapley.
And here's what an editor pal of mine in NY thought (spoiler alert!):
Daniel Day Lewis's performance is the most exciting thing I've seen in a film in a couple of years. PTA is trying to remake Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- Daniel Day even talks like John Huston! --but it reminded me more of some sort of Americanized version of an Ermanno Olmi film.
For me, Daniel Day Lewis's performance "undermined" PTA's bleak pessimism. Lewis humanity as an actor couldn't help but convince us that despite all his character's darker impulses, he truly loved the boy and was open to real love. I really believed that and was genuinely moved by all their scenes, and believed that Lewis believed in the goodness of what he was doing, except when he got drunk. For me, one giveaway was his strange openness to the obviously fraudulent "brother." His character should have been more suspicious, but Lewis explained the anomoly in his performance: he "wanted" to believe. I really thought the performance was so moving and human DESPITE the harshness of the surrounding script, and that moved me so much.
The ending was very odd and discordant and "modern" to me. I still haven't figured out if I can accept it.
I found the Dano character compelling, but a little bit stereotyped. No real surprise there. He wasn't Tom Cruise in Magnolia! I loved all the other performances.
No women, too! Except that little girl.
I agree that the film has no commercial potential (sort of PTA's Miller's Crossing!), except Lewis makes it a wild card for me. I really thought that was a historic performance, partly because of it's sustained balancing of multiple layers. Brando-Duvall level.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]