Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Film Review: There Will Be Blood

Usually when I review a film I like to write about it as soon after seeing the film as I can. With There Will Be Blood I am writing this about four days after seeing the film. Part of me has done this on purpose. I've done it because There Will Be Blood is a film you need to let sink in before you can start reflecting on it. And yes, with this film, four days is necessary. In fact probably more, so what I write here may still be a reaction in the process of fully forming.

There Will Be Blood is a very bold piece of cinema from start to finish. The first fifteen minutes or so of the film occur with no dialogue, the action playing out through what you can see only. By doing this, the film is basically making a statement: if you want to get the most out of it, you'd better be prepared to make a commitment to watching and paying attention. As the film clocks in at around the two-and-a-half hour mark, that's some commitment. In my opinion though, it's one that is definitely worth it.

The film's authenticity throughout is one of its greatest strengths. Although I'm far from an expert on the era in which the film is set (for the most part, the United States in the early years of 20th Century), the level of realism in terms of the setting, and the cinematography used in putting that setting across, was something that struck me from the first scene to the last. The atmosphere created is also highly effective; the film feels tense and intense even in its more relaxed scenes, which gives the film a very tangible edginess.

Another of There Will Be Blood's strengths comes from the performances within it. Paul Dano puts in a fantastic performance as both Paul and Eli Sunday (a casting choice that, although apparently having nothing more behind it than an actor pulling out of the film at a late stage and Dano filling the vacant part making the brothers identical twins, adds an intriguing potential psychological side to Paul and Eli's story if they are considered to be the same person under two separate personas. To delve into this here would be to both digress onto a tangent and give away too much of the story, so I shall leave it there). Dano's performance, particularly as Eli, creates a highly developed character with great depth, providing a volatile counterbalance to Daniel Day-Lewis' main character.

To say that Day-Lewis steals the show as Daniel Plainview is to do him an injustice - for the vast majority of the film, he is the show. The film centres around his life and dealings with those come in and out of it - Dano as Eli Sunday; his son, H.W., played ably by Dillon Freasier for the majority of the film; and businessmen from the oil companies. For the first two hours of the film you are essentially trying to work out just how Plainview's mind works; the final act provides a crescendo capped with a finale that will leave you utterly dumbfounded. Day-Lewis does not put a foot wrong throughout the film, acting with zeal and energy throughout, culminating in a marvellously overstated, and yet not overacted, final scene. His performance is surely one that will go down as one of the most memorable in cinematic history, certainly as one of the best of the 21st Century thusfar (and rivalled this year only by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men and Tommy Lee Jones in In The Valley Of Elah - an incredibly pleasing statistic that three performances of such quality have come out of a year only three months old).

Verdict: There Will Be Blood is a pleasingly and unrelentingly cerebral epic which pretty much succeeds at everything it attempts. I'd recommend anyone planning to watch it to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally (for want of a better phrase), as this is a film that you won't enjoy because of its uplifting qualities. Instead, take in the setting, the atmosphere, the direction, the performances - most of all, Daniel Day-Lewis. Relish it for all it presents you with, and enjoy some fairly challenging, incredibly intelligent cinema. 10/10

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