Another film about unrelenting evil, though THERE WILL BE BLOOD initially does a better job of portraying what ultimate evil might look and sound and behave like, than NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. But in the end they’re both disappointing.
And it’s a shame, because perhaps the greatest actor of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis, does another amazing job, but in the service of the unfulfilled promise of what starts out seeming like great filmmaking.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the cinematography which is consistently incredible, the directing, some of the acting, and ultimately the storytelling do not live up to the potential the movie begins with.
Day-Lewis plays what the old folks in my clan used to call “a hard man,” and as always, does it perfectly. He reminded me of my Irish grandfather, in the early scenes. The taciturn tenacity, the fortitude and resilience that turns to stubbornness and misanthropy.
But as in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, to what end? Based, as is NO COUNTRY, on a novel by a highly respected author in his day, Upton Sinclair’s OIL, THERE WILL BE BLOOD never captures the urgency of that book, because a century has come and gone since it came out, and because the obvious attempts to make the story seem timeless and universal fail miserably.
Yes, the generalized hatred and selfishness and greed and seeming alcoholism of the main character can be found today, and there are innumerable correspondences between our times and “the Gilded Age” of the late 1800s, but this movie doesn’t make that connection even subtly.
Instead it seems to lose its way in trying to cover too much ground while at the same time taking its time to appear thoughtful and thought provoking by clinging to images and scenes far too long, like student films do because the neophytes fall in love with the power of a captured image they think they control.
I feel for Daniel Day-Lewis, because this is some of his best work ever, the way he captures the physicality and speech of a man who has done the things his character has, a man alive a hundred years ago. In fact, it only highlights the other actors’ inability, for the most part, to be as precise in their evocation of those times and those kinds of people.
Day-Lewis sounds in this flick like old men of my grandfather’s generation (my father was born in 1899 and had a bit of that style himself), in a way I have not heard anyone do in movies reputedly about those days. Even early Hollywood historical dramas, or musicals set in the turn-of-the-20th-century, when the actors themselves were closer to those times, they always came across as clear products of the film’s times, the 1930s and ‘40s and ‘50s.
But Day-Lewis becomes the character so completely and perfectly, I felt I was watching a real man of those times somehow brought back to life for this film, especially before the movie careens out of control, perhaps deliberately as an extension of the character’s arc, but with no dramatic underpinning to give it any more weight than any other arbitrary choice.
It’s a shame. I was so looking forward to one of my all time favorite actors working with one of my favorite contemporary directors, Paul Thomas Anderson. But alas, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a failed attempt to express something profound and profoundly dramatic, by profoundly losing the thread of the story, and the relationships that seem to be at the heart of it but in the end are dropped or forgotten or ultimately contrived and tritely treated or overblown and melodramatic in the end.