Sunday, June 21, 2009

There Will Be Blood

2007, US, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

These days, one of the great pleasures of coming to a movie long after the theatrical hubbub has died down is being able to pick through the various online dissections in search of gems; I particularly enjoyed David Bordwell's blog entry on Paul Thomas Anderson's shot choices and compositions, which underlines both Anderson's technical skill and the trust he places in his actors.

The scene that Bordwell focuses on, a fairly early sequence that provides the impetus for the rest of the film, is a beautiful combination of careful positioning and movement, with the actors giving rhythm to both dialogue and gesture; although this film features a new set of actors for Anderson, it's not hard to see why he was able to assemble something of a repertory company for his previous films given the level of collaboration in front of and behind the camera.

For a film that subsequently comes to life with such richly textured dialogue, the opening fifteen minutes are wordless apart from the occasional grunt as Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) picks his way through a small western mine: it gives the film an appropriately elemental feel, so that the viewer cannot forget the sweat and danger associated with mineral wealth, but it also reinforces the extraordinary lengths to which Plainview is willing to go in service of his ambitions.

Later, Plainview's skewed moral universe is made absolutely clear with a shot that recalls Marlon Brando as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, features glowing in the darkness of Vietnam; Plainview has rescued his son but then turned back to what truly fuels his passions, as he watches an oil well burn into the night. Daniel Day-Lewis's acting style, which certainly stretches the boundaries on occasion, seems entirely appropriate to a story about forces of nature (in more than one sense), and it's fascinating to contrast his approach with that of Paul Dano, who plays both Eli and Paul Sunday: Dano is icily controlled most of the time, with Eli's occasional eruptions all the more unsettling as a consequence.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States