or, "Why I Won't Be Opening a Vein Over PT Anderson's Latest"
There Will Be Blood has ruined this year's movie awards season for me way more than the WGA and SAG boycotts have. Not because I hate it so much -- I'm more ambivalent than anything else and many parts were just as mesmerizing as every reviewer is saying -- but because it puts me in the position of hater towards a movie that seemingly everybody loves and a filmmaker who I love. And if Paul Thomas Anderson does finally get his first, overdue Best Director nomination, I won't be slapping blog-fives with anyone about it. And I hate that.
But I really didn't love There Will Be Blood. Serious, serious issues with that movie. I'm not going to do a capsule review for this one like I've been doing with the other Oscar contenders, but if you're looking for the best performance, it's Daniel Day Lewis, certainly. And its Oscar prospects are iffy but looking better every day. It's kind of hanging around the fifth slot in a bunch of key categories. As to the movie: stunningly shot, audaciously scored, the DDL performance is one for the annals of bugfuck insane performances of all time, and in the first 3/4 of the movie at least it's as fascinating a story of greed, ambition, and festering hatred as I've seen.
It's that last 1/4 that is the problem. Complaining about overlength sounds pedestrian when dealing with the "genius" at work here, but when the last 40 minutes fall apart they way they do here, it's certainly a valid complaint. The biggest problem, for me, is Paul Dano's character, both in the way he's written and in the way he's performed. I've been a Dano fan in the past, but the choices he makes in playing Eli the boy prophet, which were likely dictated by the script, just make things too...easy. He's too broad, he's too self-aware, and but for one scene in which a mud-covered and humiliated Eli pays that humiliation forward, he's nothing but an empty vessel for the idea of false piety. I think that's the way the character is written, largely, but I don't think it's very effective. When Anderson's film goes after the faithless preacher, it's reaching for low-hanging fruit. It's not satisfying -- actually, strike that: it's satisfying, but cheaply so. It's not earned as well as it could be. It's probably the main reason I thought that much-lauded ending was such a flailing, forced disappointment. Roger Ebert said the movie couldn't have ended any other way. I totally disagree with that. His thought process is correct -- and ending that purposefully over-the-top has to happen only when there is no other way. The rest of the story has to demand it. This story doesn't, and if they'd presented a version of Eli that wasn't such a self-aware cipher, maybe it would have.
This tends to happen with me and Paul Thomas Anderson. The final third of Boogie Nights dragged at times, though it's still one of my favorite movies. I still can't get behind the froggy Magnolia ending. Much like the TWBB finale, it's not that I don't get it -- I do -- it just doesn't work.
Hopefully this is the last you'll hear from me about this movie through the Oscars. I'm not going to grouse if it manages a Best Picture nod on nomination morning. Better to put poor Atonement out of its misery. But if Blood does get snubbed, I don't want to hear it about how the Academy never recognizes greatness, that the movie was too smart for middlebrow Hollywood, that it'll be a blight on Oscar's record on par with whatever the last unforgivable snub was. (The Academy's already fixing to reward greatness in its own time with No Country For Old Men, a movie with a controversial finale that does work.) But here I go, crapping on the "masterpiece" again. It's gonna be a long road to February.