After the (Y) machine took a festive break, the wheels are again starting to turn. To ring in the New Year, I’m going to be telling you about each of my ten favourite movies. it’s been harder than expected to elucidate my feelings on these films, usually “just watch the damn thing” is more effective than a series of ridiculous superlatives, but here goes. I hope you enjoy!
Another Paul Thomas Anderson and another display of his magnificent grasp of atypical narrative craft. Like conventional cinema, this film does build to an epic crescendo but it takes it’s time about it and never offers it’s protagonist the easy way out.
A what a protagonist There Will Be Blood conceals. Daniel Plainview could just be cinema’s most menacing figure. Of all the huge, iconic characters in my top ten films, The Dude, Bronson, Travis Bickle, Withnail, Jack Torrance, none are as destructively forceful as Daniel Plainview. Such is his presence, he almost leaps out the screen. Mad thespian Daniel Day-Lewis was rightfully gifted the Best Actor honours at the 2008 Oscars for the performance, a rare instance in which the academy showed taste.
It shares the same vast scale as Apocalypse Now, a similar atmosphere of constant foreboding, helped by Johnny Greenwood’s brilliant score and the Oscar winning cinematography of regular PTA collaborator Robert Elswit. Said cinematography lends the film the sense of it being a vast Western, and the film is indeed decidedly American. It’s central conflict surrounds the clash of the burgeoning oil industry and the slowly loosening grip of the Church.
This battle is personified as Daniel Plainview, machine-like in his industrial hatred of mankind and his rival Eli (Paul Dano) a cowardly priest. Both lose face as they duel for decades, over money, through oil pools, in bowling alleys. It’s a great cinematic rivalry and neither man seems to have the upper hand at any one point. They are both undesirably unenviable in their obsessions and yet both warrant sympathy as the power ebbs and flows between them. It’s that atypical dynamic that eschews good guy/bad guy simplicity that acts as the films lynchpin and lends it much of it’s gravitas.
Then as it’s a PTA film of course you have the simultaneous struggle between Plainview and his adopted son H.W. It’s never truly shown to what degree he loves this child, it seems he may be using him to lure in investors as part of an endearing father/son business duo. Then he laments his decision to relinquish guardianship to someone who may better care for H.W.
It’s these constantly shifting dynamics between Plainview and his work, his son, his church, his rival and himself that paint a portrait of a massive enigma of a man, probably the greatest cinematic creation of 00’s. Day-Lewis and PTA is a match made in heaven, two huge minds and one huge film.
– Oliver Drew