Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Boy, will there ever!

Last night Michelle and I went to see "There Will Be Blood," the new movie by director Paul Thomas Anderson and a favorite on critics' year-end lists and among awards-season pundits. Nothing like a huge, gritty, vengeful tragedy to pull you out of your doldrums!

Anderson has made a few M&M-favorite movies, including "Magnolia," "Punch-Drunk Love" and "Boogie Nights." In some ways, but not all, this one fits right in, and I see why it's getting so much attention. Set against the backdrop of oil exploration and speculation in Southern California around the turn of the 20th century, it's a big, big movie with big themes: ambition, greed, family, religion, revenge and (not quite) redemption.

The setting alone gives it the feel of an epic (this is one that's worth seeing on the big screen). And Anderson -- adapting the screenplay from the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!" -- knows how to weave the characters and ideas together with epic grandness. A couple of critics, notably Salon's Stephanie Zacharek -- have panned the picture for overreaching on that front, but it totally worked for me. It's a period of American history that you don't see portrayed in the movies much, at least not recently, and I thought it was interesting even apart from the appeal of the story. (A family note: My grandfather, Richard Maher, worked in the California oil fields at about this time -- in fact I think that's what took him to California from Colorado, where he was born -- but I don't know any details. Mom?)

I was thinking as we watched last night that "There Will Be Blood" seemed pretty different from Anderson's other movies, which are very modern in subject matter and technique, while this one is as old-fashioned-ly linear as its topic is old. But Michelle pointed out afterward that it was like Anderson's other work in that it focused on a larger-than-life character who is simultaneously removed from society and representative of it. That's exactly right, I think, and Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific, as usual, as the scary oil speculator Daniel Plainview. His nemesis in the movie is an equally larger-than-life preacher, Eli Sunday, who is every bit the avaricious salesman and speculator that Plainview is.

A word about the title: I read or heard somewhere someone describe this as the most portentous title imaginable, and that is true. It also delivers, in both senses of the word. There is the arrival of blood, as in family and as in violence. This is a movie in which fortunes, relationships and revenge all come both quickly and slowly. The blood is thick and sticky and pools like the runoff oil of a tapped well. Highly recommended. 4 gliomas.


kateco said...

okay. Everything is not right with the world. But, at least there's a new film review at M&M. Yay!

Rita said...

Wow. What a review, Mark.

I'm surprised that you remembered that part of Grandpa's past.
I think the family's move from Colorado happened when he was younger but he sure shared a lot of colorful stories about his experiences working in the oil fields.

Sounds like a movie worth seeing.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Sounds like you and Michelle are still movie soul mates.

mich said...

Wow, I definitely didn't remember that part of Grandpa's life. Now I want to know more. Mom, maybe over our next cocktail hour some day?

I'm glad, too, to see the M&M movie-reviewing machine back in working order. Thanks for the treat!