Overthinking There Will Be Blood

January 19, 2008 at 12:02 am | Posted in Movies | 1 Comment

Maybe I’m just cranky, but I thought There Will Be Blood was overrated. Don’t get me wrong — I thought it was really, really, really good, great even. But if the Oscar comes down to a battle between this and No Country for Old Men, I’m giving it to the Coen Bros., dudes.

Obviously there were some big, epic themes at work in the movie, Oscar-worthy themes. And all the acting was amazing — sure, I squirmed in my seat a few times when Paul Dano started ranting, but I think that’s what we were supposed to do. The beginning was great, all the oil drilling sequences were oddly thrilling … yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff here. And I really enjoyed the threatening title — the movie promised blood, and it delivered.

But ultimately, when I walk out of the theater, I asked myself, “what was the point?” And I can’t figure it out. Sure, this was made to entertain, but what’s the message? Not everything needs to have a message, but the movie had that epic vibe, and when you think “epic Oscar contender,” you think message. (Spoilers ahead.) I just think I would have enjoyed it more if Daniel Day-Lewis’s character started out as a mostly moral person, and then degenerated when corrupted by greed. Yes, I know that would be a much more conventional film. But without that character transformation, you’re left with the portrait of a sociopath, and that to me is a tad underwhelming.

To be sure, the character had a lot of contradictions — he’s affectionate with his son, feels guilt when he sends him away, overreacts when the son ultimately starts a new life apart from him. This contrasted with his expressed desire to live absolutely alone, that he hates all people. He also has this deep attachment to family, as evidenced by his confessions to his “half-brother” and subsequent violent reaction to the truth — even though he abandoned his true family in pursuit of riches. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, but … but … why? It’s not a corruption thing; the man was terrible to begin with! So why, then?

I also would’ve enjoyed a more dramatic clash of the titans-ish war between Day-Lewis and Dano, but there wasn’t really enough parity between the two. Deluded Narcissist vs. Batshit Crazy = Crazy wins every time. So, yeah, I was entertained, but I wasn’t blown away.

Whereas, with No Country for Old Men, you also have a man struggling in vain against a sociopath, but the emotions elicited in the viewer are completely different, and the themes are clear. Tommy Lee Jones character expresses everything we’re supposed to be thinking about: the choice to become a part of violence, the unpredictability of life — at one point he says, “even in the contest between man and cow, the issue is not certain.” Which sheds a lot of light on that movie’s ending. I’m not saying everything has to be completely spelled out, ambiguity is okay. But I like to be able to figure out why the screenwriter decided this story had to be told.

The final complaint I have about There Will Be Blood, and it’s a tiny one, is the score that everyone’s raving about. It’s a personal thing, but I didn’t like some of the choices. The really dissonant strings blaring really bothered me — I felt like it was cheating. It’s much easier to create a creepy mood with loud dissonant violins blaring in your ears, very unsettling. It’s much more difficult to do that with silence, or a subtler score. In a lot of ways, it was like taking a Hitchcock movie score and pushing it too far — when you think of Vertigo, you hear those creepy strings yelling at you, and you’re like “tense!” but then the mood of the music changes and through repetition, creates this great sense of foreboding. But in this movie, it was like: “hey, check out these mountains. They’re evil mountains, because the violins are now screeching in your ears. Oh hey, here’s our protagonist, look at him digging. Crap, he broke his leg. You’re starting to identify with him, aren’t you? DON’T! He’s BAD! And you can tell because the LOUD ASS VIOLINS are back!” That being said, I really liked the score in other parts of the movie, subtle and creepy.

In conclusion: There Will Be Blood, brilliant but flawed. No Country for Old Men, just brilliant.

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  1. No acting noms for Keira Knightly and/or James McAlvoy? And Joe Wright wasn’t nominated either -right? Thoughts?


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