An American archetype: Day-Lewis in There
Will Be Blood.
Will Be Blood
by Paul Thomas Anderson
I’ve been watching movies all my life. Almost as much as (and
sometimes more than) any family member, they have been my
abiding companion. I thought in terms of movies: The books
I read ran through my mind as if in reels. And, yes, I think
I expected my life to play out as one, preferably with a strong
leading man and great lighting. Oh, and wardrobe by Adrian.
Even after years of reviewing, there is still a little girl
in me who goes into the theater subconsciously expecting to
admire and identify with the lead character. So it was with
There Will Be Blood, in which Daniel Day-Lewis plays
Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century oil man buoyed
by an innate nose for petroleum and fired by an unyielding
rage. We first see Plainview digging way beneath the earth,
a solitary and backbreaking scene that immediately underscores
his relentless pursuit of black gold.
In the elliptical scenes that follow, we see Plainview reach
a level of success that allows him to go, hat in hand and
son H.W. at his side, to parched desert communities across
Southern California, vouchsafing his superior ability to find
oil on their lands and to bring them some measure of profit
and good times. His clipped intonation (many have remarked
at its similarity to John Huston’s), his rigid visage and
utter economy of motion relay confidence, and Anderson’s camera
catches poor homesteaders at their most vulnerable and greedy
as they scurry to catch the crumbs that might fall from the
mighty man’s table.
Based loosely on Upton Sinclair’s Oil! but also owing
strongly to Frank Norris’ McTeague and its own subsequent
cinematic adaptation, Erich Von Stroheim’s classic Greed,
There Will be Blood is an epic rendering of a crucial
moment in our collective history when boom times seemed imminent,
and we had to make momentous decisions about industry, church
and family. Countless stories from the Old Testament come
to mind, as Plainview’s greed and overarching ambition, and
people’s willingness to jump on his train, lead to ruination.
Day-Lewis, as is his wont, completely inhabits the character
of Daniel, and his work is stupendous. Just when you think
he’s going to go overboard, turning Daniel into caricature,
he withholds, and this push-pull dynamic mirrors what we,
the audience, feel about Plainview. There are moments when
one admires his ability to get things done and put simpering
fools in their place, but then he does something appalling
to revolt us and remind us of his true nature. Plainview’s
character is one of the many great themes of this movie: At
what point, if any, do brilliance and ability become acceptable
replacements for decency and morality?
Plainview’s counterpart is the preacher Eli (Paul Dano), whose
concern for the spiritual needs of his community barely conceals
a zeal to partake in Plainview’s bounty. The movie’s sizzling
finale, a showdown between the elderly Plainview and the mature
Eli, lays bare any lingering fantasies we may have had that
the latter is on the up and up, and provides Daniel with one
last platform on which to preach his own gospel, that of sheer
greed and opportunism.
Throughout There Will Be Blood, that little girl in
me saw in to Daniel’s psyche, identifying with him, before,
over and over again, being repulsed. The movie’s power to
reveal at the same time as it astounds and disturbs, makes
it one of the most palpable, resonating cinematic experiences
I’ve ever had. From the word go, Anderson, aided immeasurably
by a stunning, eerie score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood,
delivers a masterful achievement in moviemaking. He illuminates
a crucial piece of the American psyche, making us stare in
both wonder and horror at what we’ve become.
Only a Movie
by Matt Reeves
When making a genre film, it’s great to have a fresh gimmick.
Cloverfield, from producer J.J. Abrams and director
Matt Reeves, has a doozy: A giant monster’s attack on New
York City is told exclusively through the images captured
by a home-video camera.
This ratchets up the suspense nicely, as the beast is revealed
in impressively violent flashes. When the monster finally
gets its close-up, it’s effective and satisfying.
The gimmick liberates the storytelling, too. Who is this creature?
No idea. What does it want? Aside from its smashing skyscrapers
and munching stray humans, we have no way of knowing. Where
did it come from? That one’s easy. It came from the harbor,
where it sank an oil tanker and—spectacularly—decapitated
the Statue of Liberty. Everything we discover about the monster—and
the military’s attempts to destroy it—we learn right alongside
the main characters.
And therein lies the problem. After freeing themselves from
many of the constraints of traditional monster movies, they
fall into one of its traps by giving us main characters who
are interchangeable, idiotic and annoying. Characters that
we want the monster to kill, and, hopefully, in creatively
It would be nice if the filmmakers shared this bloodlust,
but, alas, Abrams and Reeves seem to care about these pretty
nobodies. These include going-to-Japan guy (Michael Stahl-David),
who is obsessed with saving steel-rod-through-shoulder girl
(Odette Yustman). There is also dorky-guy-with-camera (T.J.
Miller), who has a yen for bleeding-eyes- exploding-girl (Lizzy
Caplan). And, finally, let’s not forget low-hanging-fruit
guy (Mike Vogel), who earns this nickname by misjudging the
wisdom of climbing above the rest of the crowd to point out
the monster, or his girlfriend (Jessica Lucas), who climbs
barefoot through wreckage with nary a scratch.
It’s not giving too much away to say that most of the characters
this reviewer wanted dead ended up dead; the film begins with
a title stating that the footage was retrieved from “what
used to be Central Park.” That, and its brief running time,
probably explain why Cloverfield is ultimately enjoyable.
While it’s easy to be dismayed by the too-casual use of 9/11
imagery, at least Cloverfield is exactly what it claims
to be: just a monster movie.