We squeezed this one in just before the Oscars to ensure I see the majority of nominated films and can therefore have a well-informed opinion. Not that a lack of information would stop me from having an opinion of course. And not that I go out and watch a film just because it’s been nominated for an Oscar. Atonement has scored plenty of prizes but you don’t see me clamouring to watch that. Period drama featuring smug skeletor Knightley? No thank you.
There Will Be Blood would have been on my cinema menu awards-laden or not, being from P.T. Anderson, the director of Magnolia (a languid beast of a film) and staring Daniel Day-Lewis, whose accents are so delicious to listen to (see: Gangs of New York) that I’d even stoop to watching him in a period drama with Knightley, as long as he spent the majority of the film talking in a thick accent about how rubbish she is.
Anderson’s newest piece is another languid beast, only one that wakes up every now and then and delivers a punishing bite. It tells the tale of Daniel Plainview, an “oil-man” who’s fantastic at what he does, but also develops unfortunate personality traits such as wanting to be better than everyone. Nothing wrong with that, I say, but Daniel takes it to the extreme during the course of his life, perhaps further than I ever would. You’ll see what I mean if you watch it. In fact, I won’t go further into the plot as it’ll ruin the ebb and flow of the story, and also because it’s three hours long and would take me forever to explain.
Instead, I’ll say that it’s good. Want more detail than that? Ok. It’s both a fascinating character study and an epic tale of greed, striking chords with folk who strive relentlessly for success despite its ensuing isolation, or who, you know, like oil a lot. Day-Lewis is of course excellent, although the crazier side to Daniel is perhaps reminiscent of his turn in Gangs. What’s more interesting is when he shows us the cracks, be it tender moments with his son or the bitter stubbornness that’s the fuse to his dynamite. But it’s Paul Dano (the silent teen in Little Miss Sunshine) who really impresses as a preacher-type, his demeanour being calm, suspicious, manipulative - well, he does claim to channel his lord. His creepy religious obsessives (“congregation” I believe they’re called) are offset against Daniel’s lust for control. Both as crazy as each other was my take, and thankfully there was a lack of “money bad, religion good” philosophy, with questionable actions on both parts.
An impressive score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood keeps your attention snapped to the screen and builds a tone that is ominous and unexpected. You can easily get lost in the depths of this film, with its substantial running time, measured pace and unknown plot directions. But lost in a good way - it’s not easy for a three hour film to hold you, and much as I likened the Coen’s No Country for Old Men to a walk out in a vast wilderness, There Will Be Blood is not a film experience to be undertaken lightly, but will be rewarding to those who attempt it. I’ve been highly impressed by the films of 2008 so far (unbaked Dylan aside) and There Will Be Blood keeps up the standard with yet another CF3. Let’s see what the Oscars say. Or - as I predict - let’s disagree…