Monday, January 28, 2008

LA diary day 1 - THERE WILL BE BLOOD

There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone. Right now LA is sunny but cold and I'm in town for a few days on business. It's a perfect chance to check out some historic cinemas and some new releases that haven't made it to the UK yet. It's perfect testament to the almost visceral impact of THERE WILL BE BLOOD that I was transfixed by it, despite the fact that I'd just come off a 13 hour flight and was running on nearly 24 hours without sleep. (In fairness, the fact that the Arclight on Sunset Boulevard is super-plush, has killer hot dogs and great coffee also helped, and I was pleasantly surpised to see I was paying just $12 as opposed to $25 in London! Seriously, thanks to the dollar depreciation stuff in LA is basically free now.)

Paul Thomas Anderson's new film is, like 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS, a movie that leaves you breathless with its completeness of vision. Every single aspect of the movie has been carefully thought out and the complete work fills you with renewed excitement about the power of the medium. The cinematography, by long-term collaborator Robert Elswit, is great. Just look at the scene where Day-Lewis is silhouetted against burning oil wells at dusk. The production design places us authentically in the grit and grime of the California oil rush of the early 1900s. More than all of this, technically, the supreme achievement of this film is it's sound design. Jonny Greenwood of RADIOHEAD fame provides a score that feels like Ligetti or Bartok. It's insistent, dissonant and jarring, and almost replaces dialogue as the explanatory aural medium for the film.

Daniel Day-Lewis lives and breathes the enigmatic oil man Daniel Plainview. He advertises himself as a plain speaking family man bringing riches to the poor farmers. In reality he is a misanthrope and arch-manipulator. He speaks with an accent from a history book - some say modelled on John Huston. He is mesmerising. The first fifteen minutes of the film see Plainview find his first mineral mine, and then bringing his first wells on-line. There is little dialogue. Plainview seems to succeed by pure force of will, and brutally brushes of any accidental deaths inherent in the dangerous business of prospecting.

After this prologue we meet Plainview in 1911 as he charms his way into ownership of vast oil reserves. He meets his nemesis in a young kid with delusions of being a faith healer. Paul Dano plays Eli Sunday as an irritating over-confident nuisance. Some critics have complained that he doesn't provide a meaty enough foil for Plainview but I disagree. It's fascinating that Plainview is too mean to allow this small irritant to persist and thrive. His sense of reason bristles at the ludicrous church services. But more importantly, his ego cannot cope with another man absorbing the people's interest. The feebleness of Eli Sunday also makes the scene where Plainview beats the crap out of him even more powerful and pathetic.

As for Paul Dano, maybe he was thrust into the role of Eli Sunday with too little preparation time. Maybe his scenes preaching aren't quite convincing. Does he really have the charisma to make us believe that he would found a church? But for every weak scene there's a great scene. One of the best is when the bullied preacher turns on his own father and becomes a bully himself.

If Dano's casting is one problem, I can imagine the final episode of this film striking some as over-the-top and ridiculous. By that point, I was so suckered into this world that I bought every second of it. And I think that is Anderson's real achievement here. He has created a world that seems alien and brutal and that is filled with characters from the Inferno. And yet, it is depicted with such conviction you can't help but take it to heart.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD played Toronto 2007 and will play Berlin 2008. It opened in the US in 2007 and opens in February 2008 in Austrlia, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Italy, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Argentina, Greece, Portugal, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, France and the Netherlands.

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