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Monday, March 3, 2008

There will be blood then? Not really.

Well I saw Daniel Day Lewis et al in the Rive Gauche arts cinema in Perpignan this afternoon knowing all the hype, the Oscar, an interview with the King of Guignol, himself, on television but with the sinking heart of one who fears the worst. I wasn’t far wrong.

Those who have compared There Will Be Blood to Citizen Kane want to examine their capacity to differentiate that latter, flawed masterpiece from something which is not much more than an average celluloid vehicle for overacting. The relationship between Lewis’s character, Daniel Plainview and the fire and brimstone priest, Eli Sunday played by Paul Dano begins unevenly, totters along hysterically and ends in total bathos, the latter being brained in the bowling alley symbol of Lewis’ oil-based wealth. Compare it to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford wherein the death of James (Brad Pitt) at the hands of Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), despite being forecast by the title, is full of tension and wonderful, complex portrayals of human frailty, throughout.

Both are long films. Both are quasi-historical philosophisings on the shaky foundations of modern America and both rest on central male relationships. But I’ve written at length about the outlaw film. What about the oil one?

It all comes down to whether you find DD Lewis and Dano believable as characters because the plot barely sustains interest. Lewis dotes on his son but rejects him for a period when he is blown deaf by an oil rig eruption. He kills an imposter who claims to be his brother because the man fooled him. He is blackmailed into being ‘saved’ by the priest in a full blown exorcism which Plainview goes along with in exchange for the rights to run a pipeline to the sea. He takes his son back and then when the boy is older and married and wants to go off and be his own man, he rejects him in a nasty prosy speech which should have stayed on a page somewhere: the whole being an attempt to encapsulate the morally bankrupt industrial empire building of late 19th century America.

The mining sequences are over long and consequently lose their dramatic potential. The character studies are grossly OTT with little light and shade or complexity. The soundtrack is a constant distraction. The rest of the characters are shadows on a cave wall.

It all goes to prove that films that in some way appeal to a history as young and terrible as America’s can be pure box office. The more outlandishly Punch and Judy, the vision, the better.


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