I had a blast yesterday afternoon with the first 2 installments of my weekend Oscar Movie Marathon. Went to Bella Terra, ate an Asian Chicken Salad at Pei Wei then headed to the BT Theatres.
I honestly knew nothing about either of the films I was going to watch. I'd heard some general reviews, but without any storyline detail. I never saw a trailer to either of them. I DID know that both were based on existing material, but that was it. (Whether that material was a book, short story, or true life experience I had no clue.) I'd heard both films hyped on TV for their great direction and cinematography, but again, no details. Truly, I was as blank a slate as I've ever been prior to watching a movie.
There Will Be Blood was the first film I saw. I recall hearing a couple reviewers going on and on about how boring the movie was, and how shocked they were that it was nominated. So I was expecting to have trouble staying awake for the 2.5+ hour epic.
One of my first impressions of the movie was the powerful "contemporary art music" that was the core of the score. The opening bars of the music reminded me of one of the most startling compositions of the 20th century: Polish composer Krystof Penderecki's Threnody To The Victims of Hiroshima, an orchestral depiction of the atomic destruction of the Japanese city in 1946. Needless to say, that brought me to the edge of my seat. I thought to myself, "Good grief, what IS this movie about?"
About 20 minutes of grueling (depressing?) visual exposition passed before the first word of "dialogue" was spoken. (Actually, it was a long but beautifully delivered monologue by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis.) I don't believe I've ever seen a Lewis film, but I've heard of his reputation as an actor. Let me just go on record here to say that I will be shocked if any of the four other actors nominated could possibly have delivered a more spectacular performance. He is definitely worthy of Oscar gold. Although you absolutely HATE his character (Daniel Plainview), you are completely swept away by his gut-wrenching, jaw-dropping rendering.
The story is based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil. (I found this out in the closing credits.) The film (and, I assume, the book) reveals the desolate world of the turn-of-the-century far west. You receive quite the education on the formidable (and dangerous) task of pulling oil from the earth. I'm almost tempted to read Sinclair's book for more detail, but I think I've had enough exposure to Daniel Plainview for a lifetime. I DO think I'll buy the soundtrack...I've never heard that kind of music used in a major film. Everything from full orchestra to solo piano to string quartet to "mechanical." Quite unique.
For those of us in "church work" (I hate that phrase!), it should be noted that most of the tension in the movie is between a scary, weird-o minister (of the scary, weird-o "Church of the Third Revelation") and the scary, weird-o oilman, Plainview. The actor who plays that minister is Paul Dano. (He was Dwayne, the gothic teen brother in last year's Little Miss Sunshine.) I thought he gave an incredible performance also...certainly worthy of a supporting actor nomination (which he didn't receive). One of my favorite scenes is when the preacher manipulates Plainview into a "conversion" experience--complete with pseudo confession and baptism. So much for high-pressure "evangelism."
Do I recommend it? Well, if you're willing to invest nearly 3 hours into an intense psycho-drama full of unlikable (but fascinating) characters, go for it. It's definitely not a feel-good film, even though the final line is hilarious (and quotable) in its context.
If you NEED a feel-good film, definitely DO NOT see No Country for Old Men! I was angry when this came to an end because nothing really was "concluded." Not even the "let the audience draw its own conclusion" type ending. I don't require "happy" endings, but I do prefer some kind of closure. That doesn't really happen with NCFOM.
To be fair to the Brothers Coen, the movie's makers, I learned after watching the film that they had been completely faithful to Cormac McCarthy's book. So I guess I should focus my discontent upon Mr. McCarthy. I guess I'm a "structure snob" when it comes to books and screenplays. I expect some "norms" to be followed. [Spoiler Warning: Skip to next paragraph if you plan to see the film "innocently."] I was really bummed when the protagonist into whom I'd invested a lot of emotional energy, got "killed-off" two-thirds of the way into the film. THANK YOU VERY MUCH, MR. McCARTHY!!!
A shout-out to the casting agents for the film, however. I love the "realness" of the minor characters: the general store owner, the chicken farmer, the trailer park lady, and the mother-in-law. They were all such fun to watch and listen to.
"Violent" would be an understatement in describing this movie. Perhaps a better title for THIS film would have been, There Will Be Blood--Again and Again and Again. (Hmm...guess that wouldn't fly, huh?) Mercy! Like Bob Ewing (one of the ministers at our church) warned me before seeing it, "You'll never be comfortable around an air compressor again." (If you've seen the movie, you know what that means!) It would have been pretty unbearable if it weren't for the unexpected moments of VERY funny quips that are so typical of the Coens' films. In spite of all the uneasiness that the film evokes, it does deal with some real-life truisms:
- Things don't always end well.
- Victims are usually good, innocent people.
- There are truly evil people out there.
- Evil people are often extremely intelligent and crafty.
- The love of money is the root of all (most) evil.
If you go see this film, just know you won't "like" the ending. You may nod your head with the grim truth of it, but you won't like it.