Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 11/7/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

There Will Be Blood

As a college student, I was a huge movie buff, usually taking in between 50-60 movies a year in the theater. One of my annual rituals involved an attempt to take in all 5 best picture nominees before the Oscars rolled around. Usually, I was able to succeed. Since I’ve become a husband and more recently a father, the time I have to spend in a movie theater has significantly diminished. It’s become more common lately for me to see 5 movies in the theater a year period, let alone all 5 best picture noms. The only one of last year’s crop I’ve seen was Juno (which was great), so I was very excited about the chance I had last night to sit down with a good friend and watch director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, There Will Be Blood. If you’ve seen any of Anderson’s previous work (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love), you know that he tends to make films a bit off the beaten path. That’s probably putting it lightly – his films are often very different, sometimes bordering on the bizarre. There Will Be Blood doesn’t flirt with bizarre territory, but it does tell a very simple story in a very unconventional way, and it had me hooked for the entirety of its 2 ½ hour plus runtime.

The movie, on the surface, is a portrait of two men. One is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a crafty, charismatic, and determined oilman who is out to get rich at any cost. The other is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young faith healer of a small church in a town sitting on a sea of oil. The movie tells the tale of each man’s journey as they clash against each other over the sea of wealth under the town. Daniel seeks wealth as an end in itself, Eli is more concerned with the prestige that it brings. Caught in the middle is Daniel’s adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier), who over the course of the film grows from a boy to a young man.

The setup really isn’t much more complicated than that. The complexity of the film is all in the way that Anderson tells the story. He films things like no other director. Nearly every shot in the movie, from simple framed conversations to extended steadycam shots, appears on screen with a different look and cadence than expected. The way that he presents the film will either leave you studying every frame, or completely turned off. I was riveted. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the performances are superb. Day-Lewis took home the Best Actor Oscar for his role, and he earned it. Dano was nearly as good with very little fanfare. Freasier does little to stand out, and I mean that as a compliment. H.W. as a character is a blank slate, absorbing everything around him, and the only character in the film to really go through a substantial change. Reflecting back on the film, I instantly began asking myself whose story it is. My first instinct was to say that H.W. is the true center of the story, but after more reflection I’m less sure. One could easily see this as a portrait of Daniel and Eli, who at the end of the day are largely the same man. One could see the oil itself as the central driving force, watching to see how each character is impacted by its presence. Perhaps Anderson himself isn’t really sure, but if he is I’m glad he’s not telling. This is a movie that begs to be discussed, to be thought about and discussed some more. It’s not for everyone, and frankly it’s probably not for most people. But for those who like something different cinematically on occasion, you’ll find a film that will stay with you for quite a while. - ***1/2 (out of four)

There Will Be Blood is rated R for some violence.

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