Idol Chatter

ThereWillBeBlood-3.jpgThe only movie I haven’t been able to cross off my Oscar nominated must-see list has been the dark, sweeping, would-be epic, “There will be Blood.” I’ve had plenty of opportunities to listen to the rave reviews as well as some sharp criticism of Paul Michael Anderson’s (“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights”) period drama about a misanthropic, greedy oil man and his life-long grudge with a charismatic preacher. For a story that dwells on images of plumbing the depths of the earth for riches, the plot is simple, and the themes and symbols are too obvious, making this movie the most over-hyped movie in this year’s Oscar race.

American capitalism and old-style religion make a bizarre, violent mix, as Daniel Plainview
(Daniel Day-Lewis) buys up most of the land in a tiny California town, which brings him into conflict with an equally greedy and corrupt preacher Eli Sunday (yes, the names in this film are part of the over-the-top symbolism). When Plainview doesn’t live up to his part of a bargain–perhaps in response to the anger he feels at God and the church for supposedly not doing right by him in allowing his son to suffer a tragic accident–Sunday doesn’t forgive and forget. Plainview and Sunday take turns humiliating each other at different opportune moments until there is one final, brutal showdown.
Anderson is revered in Hollywood for his bold storytelling choices, and “Blood” does have a few of those. There’s not one word of dialogue for the first 10 minutes or so of the movie, but plenty of other noise. The slow, slow pace of this film, in which we are treated to many, many impressive scenic vistas between major plot points, might be looked at as another genius stylistic choice, but for me, it just made the film, well, slow..
Anderson also seems to be very focused on the prodigal son as a recurring theme in his work. Just as in “Magnolia,” where a charismatic man has an underlying desperate motivation to connect with his father, Plainview and Sunday are equally disconnected in the area of father/son relationships. But this is never fully explored in the way it could have been. The same could be said for the themes of corruption and religion. What could have been a serious commentary on these subjects is diminished by broad, cartoonish moments with little set-up and little explanation.
In fact, maybe that is the best way to describe this film: There could have been a great story. There could have been redemption. But, in the final scenes, there was, quite literally, only blood.

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