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There Will Be Blood


So, I caught a 9:45 pm screening of “There Will Be Blood” tonight (or yesterday, technically) with DrunkBrunch and Brian Van. Right now, while I think it is worth seeing, and quite an excellent and ambitious piece of cinema. I’m going to have a real problem considering it the best movie of the year over “No Country For Old Men“.  Daniel Day-Lewis is outstanding, as always. The movie may be worth seeing for his performance alone. Day-Lewis doesn’t just seem to act, his characters are true creations, and I will always look forward to movies he is in. He doesn’t disappoint here, friends. He manages to communicate a very complex character in oilman Daniel Plainview, and show all sides of him. Also excellent is Paul Dano as his sort of rival, a religious man of dubious integrity.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson has a few outstanding sequences, and as the story of Plainview’s acquisition of land and discovery of oil advances, the price to be paid with his soul, with his dignity, and some point, with his family, grows more and more powerful. Adapted from the Upton Sinclair book Oil!, it serves as a commentary on the building of empires and what it often took to build the great fortunes of the turn-of-the-century. It also, I think, might be a commentary on Big Oil today and that essentially, what it takes for that industry to succeed is often the plundering of the earth and of the soul.

That being said, SPOILER TIME, the ending of the movie, well, how do I say this? Sucked. Sucked Hard. It was an atrocity. I mean, really. Awful. God-awful. Just horrendous.

What the hell was Paul Thomas Anderson thinking? I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie so good end worse than most of my relationships. Just a freakin’ train wreck. It’s so bad, all I am left with is these cliches.

The movie loses its sanity once his son gets married in 1927. First, Plainview has essentially turned into fat Elvis at the end of his life without the television to shoot out, and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I guess this is to show the toll of his hatred for humanity and his essential loneliness. Look, we know Plainview hates people and is distrustful, but that doesn’t explain his descent into dissipation at all. It just seemed like the thing to do. In a movie that had presented him as such a complex character, this reeks of the easy way out.

Then, we find out that his son is not really his biological son, but a baby he found and adopted to help make deals. This is not a surprise, nor is the sequence where his son wants to strike out on his own, more for the sake of saving their father-son relationship, only to be told there is none, even as you can tell Plainview clearly has affection for the man/child. It’s clear that through all of Plainview’s hatred, he still desires to connect with someone, someone by blood (there is a subplot earlier about a person who impersonates his brother.) I could have lived with this part, though it doesn’t feel particularly developed past anything you’d see in, I dunno, a soap opera.

But, ultimately, the final scene, set in the bowling alley of Plainview’s mansion, has to be seen to be believed, and seen to realize just how close this movie came to greatness. It is, and there’s no mincing words here, completely stupid. Eli Sunday (Dano), still a religious figure, supposedly of some fame, comes back to Plainview with the intention of getting himself and his church some money. To strike the deal, Plainview demands that he admit that he is a fraud, and do it like he means it. What follows is akin to the scene in “Silver Streak” where Richard Pryor teaches Gene Wilder how to “act black” in blackface. Except not as funny, and has no place in the denouement of a serious epic. I totally appreciated that the film was able to be funny in telling such a downbeat story, but that was absurd.

That’s right, they bad!    Then, Plainview admits he tricked Sunday; there is no oil deal to be struck because he found a way to get oil from the land he claimed he was only using for a pipeline. And then, it what is undoubtedly the low point of Daniel Day-Lewis’s career unless he was in some “Benny Hill” sketch from back in the day I don’t know about, he makes a metaphor about two milkshakes that a greeting card writer would be embarassed to take credit for. You’ve got Daniel Day-Lewis, and you give him a half-assed speech about milkshakes and straws?

And finally, to top it all off, he eventually, for no reason I can really figure, he kills Sunday with a bowling pin. Because a “Clue”-style ending is how you have to end a great American movie. I guess killing the two-faced Sunday was a commentary on everything Plainview hates about humanity, and how that hate built up and finally comes back to haunt Plainview. If you’re buying that, you must really want to like this movie.

I wanted to buy, because 90 percent of it, in my opinion, is great. But the ending is so bad, so bad, so bad that you can’t call it great, and you may even have a hard time justifying it as good. Seriously, it’s that bad. The movie is a beautiful melange of subtlety and patience, only to be ruined by an over the top ending that looks more like a pathetic stab at greatness rather than actual greatness. Poor DrunkBrunch had invested so much in the characters, only to feel that the whole thing was ruined and that she had essentially, wasted her time. She might have been angrier than me. Brian Van, firmly in the corner of “No Country for Old Men”, found all the ammo he needed to declare a TKO for Coen Brothers’ film. It’s a testament to Dano and Day-Lewis that this ending has not been more roundly mocked and derided than it has been. Day-Lewis probably needs to call T.J. Hooker if he doesn’t win an Oscar, because he will have been robbed.

The absolute worst thing you can do when ending a movie is to make everything before it seem pointless, which is what happens in “There Will Be Blood”. Oddly enough, this has happened to Day-Lewis before, in “Gangs of New York”, that also provided an ending that essentially said, “You know the last two hours you spent here? Yeah, it really didn’t matter.” But at least I understood that one, that the gangs were deemed irrelevant once the draft riots and the Civil War began. But audiences who invest in characters aren’t trying to hear that. This ending, I can’t even justify.

Oh, P.T. Anderson, you came so close  to something truly outstanding. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the audience feeling like P.T. Barnum directed it, and that he saw three hours’ worth of suckers coming.

Finally got my butt into the theater to see consensus American movie of the year “No Country For Old Men” (I hope to see what appears to be #2, There Will Be Blood, sometime this weekend), and I’ve got some thoughts. If you haven’t seen it, you may possibly be spoiled if you read too much. All six of you.

I really enjoyed it, it’s visually quite stunning. While the story of the average Joe in over his head against a ruthless, psychopathic criminal is nothing new, I think what gives the movie its heft and meaning is the excellent job the file does of evoking the legend and majesty of American West as the backdrop for modern-day savagery. The source material by Cormac McCarthy needs to be credited for that as much as the stunning cinematography.

Also, there’s never not a moment of dread and anticipation in the film once it gets going, even in its calmer scenes. That’s always impressive to me in this day and age when it’s pretty hard to find new ways to keep people on the edge of their seats. The performances are all very good.

The bad news: the ending. While I didn’t hate the ending, and may have a bead on what they were trying to do, I’m not sure if it was the best ending. Having Tommy Lee Jones tell a story about meeting his dad in his dreams probably was meant to continue the theme about the reality versus the legend of the West (it’s just as savage now as ever, there just isn’t any varnish of faded memories on it now) and kind of works.

The final scenes involving Anton Chigurh, and whether he spares the widow of Llewelyn Moss, the ensuing random car accident and interaction with two youths much like Moss’ earlier in the film…I don’t know. I guess it was trying to show that a psychopath has no choice in his fate, it is just who he is, and he’s like the coin flip…wherever it lands, the decision is made for him. Not really sure it worked. But it has engendered discussion, and for a movie to do that after you leave is never really a problem.

So, overall, I can see why many consider it the yeatr’s best movie. I just haven’tt seen enough films this year to say it is, but it doesn’t seem particularly irrational to me.  I definitely classify it as “worth seeing”.

Note: At some point, my buddy Joe and I will make up alternate absurd endings for this movie. It’s been a tradition of ours since we saw “Million Dollar Baby” and amused ourselves for hours afterwards by creating alternate endings. The clear winner in that one, by the way, was Joe’s scenario where Morgan Freeman winds up stealing Hillary Swank’s insurance money from Clint Eastwood and says “…and that why she was my Million Dollar Baby.” Then of course, fade to credits.

Or maybe you had to be there. In any case, next time I see Joe, we’ll do the same, and I’ll share the results with you.