Sunday, September 07, 2008

FILM REVIEW - There will be blood

I missed seeing this film on the big screen, which may explain why I found its scale on my computer, somewhat overblown. Paul Thomas Anderson's previous films, gave him a reputation for bold cinematography, odd characters and general quirky profundity, little of which is in evidence here. It's a rather conventional 'big picture', with 'big ambitions', and a 'big star', that unfortunately packs a very small and over attenuated punch. The only thing which remains vividly in your face is the musical soundtrack, which though obviously innovative, is distracting and often extremely irritating as a result. It frequently double underlines the tenseness and sense of foreboding in a scene, in a very clumsy and heavy handed way. This operates in the way scraping your nails across a blackboard would do, it puts you on edge. But when scene after scene fails to deliver on that tension, you realise that this soundtrack is meant to compensate for something which is not present in the film -the sense of an evolving and involving drama.

As a movie it drags you across the grand sketch of its narrative landscape, like a sack of old potatoes i.e. uncomfortable. The pace at which it unfolded its storyline had a rather unremitting plod and dreary predictabilty to it- the corrupting influence of avaricious capitalism upon its victims and perpetrator. It kept evoking comparisons with 'Citizen Kane', which only revealed how badly Anderson's over ambitious artistic agenda fell short. We are repeatedly left lingering 'significantly' on panoramic scenescapes to no real meaning or purpose. There was, paradoxically, a lack of dramatic confidence at its heart - 'telegraphing' its important scenes to us a good while beforehand, sometimes visually, but mostly audibly as I said earlier. It kept having to remind us to pay attention.

A below par script can be lifted to an altogether different level by superlative ensemble or individual acting. Certainly if you took Day Lewis's performance out of 'There will be blood' the remaining performances are eminently forgettable. Everything else paled in the extensive shadow of such BIG acting. Yet leaving him in centre stage, demanded a lot from Day Lewis in holding it all together. Only an actor with such a proven track record, could hold down being the core of a movie in quite this way. The superlatives have certainly been gushing concerning Daniel Day Lewis's performance, for which he won an Oscar. I couldn't see much to justify the effusive nature of this praise, I remained largely in a couldn't care less mood about his central character. His acting is undoubtedly full blooded and imaginatively alive, but it didn't rivet me to his every mood and gesture, nor feel in any way gripped, appalled, inspired or in awe. The character does run far too close to being a re-hash of his part in The Gangs of New York - the same moustache with a different suit and hat, but minus the Irish/American accent and power crazed menace. The reasons why this character Daniel Plainview was behaving like this were opaque. I really could not say I understood him any better by the final credits.

The same fate befell the character of Eli, the evangelical preacher, which was a hopelessly underwritten part, and miscast to boot. The young and obviously inexperienced actor gives it his best shot, but for all his manic screeching voice and flailing, his acting looked desperate and ineffective most of the time. It required a subtler, more intelligent and less of a broad brush stroke approach than this. Who was this young man Eli, and why would his flock be so willing to follow someone so young and clearly feeble? Any interesting connections or parallels to be drawn between the manipulative practices of evangelical Christianity and devout capitalism were hardly explored. The final scenes in Plainview's mansion seemed to want to explain and resolve such unspoken questions, but only suceeded in creating further gaps in the already unfullfilled expectations of its plot. In short, this was a bit of a sprawling mess - there will be blood, but you'll not find it in the arteries of this film.

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