In a year of competitive films, the movies keep getting more competitive. In the last week, I have seen a slew of quality films, each unique in their own way and difficult to compare. The latest is There Will Be Blood, easily one of the best, if not the best, movies of 2007. There Will Be Blood stars Daniel Day-Lewis and is all but a complete masterpiece.
There Will Be Blood is one of those films where the stars align just right. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has flirted with excellence before, but never have we seen him on target so often. Daniel Day-Lewis turns in what could be the best of his prolific career, and if he doesn't win Best Actor, I will turn my back on the Oscars forever. The direction of Anderson, the mind blowing performance of Day-Lewis and the captivating story based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" make There Will Be Blood a heavy contender for the top prize, though admittedly this isn't the feel-good movie of the year that often appeal to voters.
Regardless of its actual chances, I'd have to say that There Will Be Blood is only second to Atonement, and it is a close race. I won't even begin to compare the drastically different dramas, so I will simply say that There Will Be Blood is unique, powerful, engaging, beautiful and ugly all at once. We begin with a man named Daniel Plainview, who has a small mine. No words are spoken for several minutes as this rugged man searches for something in the earth, has an accident, breaks his leg and drags himself back to town to get his findings evaluated. In this first sequence, we see the dedication and singular focus of Mr. Plainview. Jump ahead several years, and Plainview has become a true oil man, though his motives never seem to match the apparent sincerity in his words. Again, he is a man of singular focus, and that focus isn't to help others or find happiness; he is there to make money. Mr. Plainview is held in check by the bond with his adopted son; their bond cannot be called love, but simply a mutual understanding of how things are. His son brings him closer to humanity than anything else, but even then, Mr. Plainview is simply a greedy bastard.
The movie is dazzling. Intentionally slow at times and always methodical, Anderson lets his screenplay and actors do the work for him. While the film is a technical feat, at first glance it may appear simple and certainly understated; the camera often remains still, and Anderson is careful to capture both the emotion and physical nature of what's on screen, even if "nothing" is happening. Aided by a brilliantly subdued score that sometimes seems to disappear for long stretches and then returns in a captivating buzz, Anderson has achieved what I can only expect to be a lock for a Best Director nomination. Then again, in such a competitive year, it is hard to tell.
But even in a competitive year, I cannot imagine anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis walking up to the podium to accept his prize. This actor has turned in so many great performances, but never before have I been so engaged as I was here. This is perfection if I've ever seen it.
Talking about Oscars, young Paul Dano has delivered a star-making performance. His incarnation of a vibrant, intelligent and suspiciously "innocent" healer and preacher rivals Day-Lewis at time, and that is a feat in and of itself. Will he win? Only time will tell, but the Little Miss Sunshine actor will not have a lack of work anytime soon.
If I were to have a complaint, it'd be that the movie loses a slight bit of focus in a few later scenes as Anderson prepares us for the finale. These scenes in question are never dull, but they lack some of the exactness of the first half. Then again, the first half is so mesmerizing that it's probably unfair to expect Anderson not to stumble once or twice. Regardless, the film is a masterpiece, and Anderson caps it off with one of the most brilliantly conceived and extraordinary endings in cinematic history. Bold, brazen, funny, twisted and dark all at once, the ending is a piece of work and features both Day-Lewis and Dano taking things to yet another level. Anderson himself tricks the audience into letting its guard down, and then pummels them with the final moments. Wonderful stuff.
There Will Be Blood is by no means for everyone, but it is an incredible picture and the second best picture of 2007.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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