Saturday, October 5, 2013

There Will Be Blood or How I loved the outrageous!

This post is 8th entry into my semi-regular feature in which I go through some of my favourite films. Even though all the 7 films I have written about in this series before are some of my favourite movies, most of which fall within #20 in my Top 100, I never touched my Top 3 – Inception(2010), There Will Be Blood(2007) and Pulp Fiction(1994). In fact, the only time I have said anything about them on this blog is when I covered their respective directors in another one of my semi-regular features, Profile of a Director. Probably the main reason behind doing so was when I started blogging back in 2011, it felt like blogosphere was over saturated with conversations about at least two of them and I could hardly find anything original to say that someone else didn't already. I am not sure if I still can add something valuable to discussion but at least now it feels like enough time has passed for people to be ready to talk about them again.

There were so many great films released in 2007 that I am almost certain it is ‘The’ year of 21st Century so far and even one of the best in the history of cinema. I have always advocated 1957 as my favourite year but if there is one that might pose a serious threat to it, it must be 2007. Back in 2007 when There Will Be Blood was released as well, I was in the last year of my college and even though I did watch more movies than a casual movie-goer, I was nowhere near being a cinephile. My earliest memory of this film is its fierce Oscar race with No Country for Old Men(2007). It would be another two and half – three years until I'll watch either of the two and until then confuse them with each other referring both as 'movies with long names that were in the Oscar race that year'.

Along with Christopher Nolan, I consider director Paul Thomas Anderson to be the defining director of their generation. Only reason I still hesitate calling them ‘one of the best ever’ is both of them have not made many films but they certainly have multiple decades ahead of them to prove us right. In the 15-odd years both of them have been working, they have left their definite impression and I am more than confident will continue to do so. Knowing my adoration for this director, saying this sprawling epic of oil, family, religion and most importantly greed is PTA’s crowning achievement itself is speaking highly. But I will go even further and add my voice to everyone else saying that it is the film that has most potential to be a future classic. Many years into the future I really believe we will consider it a masterpiece, if aren’t already.

I am saying this right away because I know lot of people do not think of There Will Be Blood as the masterpiece that I think it deserves to be and quite frankly, I can easily see how it can rub someone the wrong way. It is not as polarizing as The Master(2012) but PTA doesn’t make it very easy for us to like it either. I doubt if PTA ever did or will. It might be paced laboriously but every once in a while it gets it rolling and; let it be him trying to convince certain community his worth(“I am an Oil Man”), his baptism in the Church of Third revelation(“Louder, Daniel. I am a sinner!”), dinner in the Sunday household(“Do you think God is going to save you for being stupid? He doesn't save stupid people, Abel”) or that beautifully shot and paced oil explosion scene. I can go on and on; he hits it out of the park every single time. I am a novice at best when it comes to scores or music in general but Greenwood’s groovy score and Robert Elswit’s gorgeous cinematography that won his Oscar go long way in elevating to that status as well.

One of my friends believes that the natural acting is the only pure form of acting. His philosophy is if you have to go over the top, you are doing it wrong and I always plead Daniel Plainview as a counter argument to him. Daniel Day-Lewis is at least two feet over the top throughout this performance but it still is the best performance I have ever seen by anyone and that is saying a whole lot. It’s kind of interesting that as much as I love subtle, down-to-earth performance that still manage to catch your eye, majority of my favourite performances are flashy, over-the-top kind that are anything but subtle. Thing with such performances is there is a very little room for maneuvering. If you underplay it a little, it may not make its impact and if you go too overboard, it might get ridiculous. But when someone gets it right, it can be a sight worth seeing and damn me if DDL doesn’t get it just right!

Plainview is at the center of everything here but he gives us every reason to despise him. He is cold and conflicted; a terrible father and proves repeatedly he wouldn’t skip a heartbeat stepping over you if it is for his benefit. All he ever wants is to get filthy rich and is ready to pay any price for that. Any! That greed consumes him in most spectacular fashion. I might despise Daniel Plainview to the core but Daniel Day-Lewis makes it impossible to take my eyes off him for even a second. Once again, I completely understand anyone who can shrug it off as over-acting but his deep, borderline scary voice, formidable body language and even his misanthropy; everything about him fascinates me to no end. Add Paul Dano and his Eli Sunday to the equation and you have a knockout 1-2 punch.

I think it is pretty obvious by now that I will choose There Will Be Blood over Best picture winner No Country for Old Men but you will never find me flaking it for winning over TWBB. No Country is as respectable Best Picture winner as you can find; a rare example of AMPAS doing something right despite getting it wrong. Remarkable thing about either of the two is they are both near perfect films in every aspect. Both can test your patience in parts but when they pick up, they can take your breath away. Both have some of the best performances I have seen, enthralling story, stunning visuals and incredible philosophy behind them giving each as much depth as you are willing to explore.

If I have to choose one aspect of TWBB that makes it so much dearer to me, it would obviously be tour-de-force performances of Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview and Paul Dano as Eli Sunday. For No Country, that aspect would have to be its philosophy. As much as I loved everything else, I have often wondered if I would consider TWBB as highly if it wasn't for these two towering performances but then I know No Country wouldn't be what it is without Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Bell or even with anyone else playing them and that is not even what I like the most about that film.

Over the past two and half years of my blogging, one thing has certainly changed for me and that is exhilaration you feel after watching something memorable. Not that I don't feel it anymore but it has certainly become less frequent. I remember waiting 6 months for Inception, watching a late evening show on the opening day and then discussing the hell out of it till 2:30 in the morning in theater parking lot. I remember being in awe of Daniel Plainview and going batshit crazy in bowling alley scene. I remember being stunned by the greatness of Rashomon(1950), by the audacity of making a film in one room of 12 Angry Men(1957) and the beauty of Ingrid Bergman and Notorious(1946). Maybe I have become more cynical or more experienced and ante-up my own game but that rarely happens anymore. Maybe that is what makes these movies special.

Rating(out of 5):

Past Favorites:
Bicycle Thieves(1948)
City Lights(1931)


  1. Well, Shantanu, we all go through that kind of a feeling at some point of time in our movie viewing lives. Sometimes, I end up watching two brilliant films in a single day (as it happened very recently courtesy two '80s masterpieces The Hit and House of Games) and then there are times when I have to wait for weeks, even months, to experience the kind of exhilaration you seem to have talked about. I am in absolute awe of Paul Thomas Anderson's cinema. I personally feel he is the worthy successor to the rich legacy of Stanley Kubrick and Orson Welles - the undisputed giants of American cinema, IMHO. Among the active American filmmakers, I would rate him second only to the great Terrence Malick, who I believe is not only working at the heights of his power but is also changing the very semantics of cinema. I have tried to talk about it in my review of The Master. Please do go through it, if you haven't already. Here's the link:

    Unfortunately, I do not and cannot rate Christopher Nolan as highly as you do. There is no doubt that Nolan has truckloads of potential and has all the makings of a great filmmaker... I absolutely adore his early works like Following, Memento, and The Prestige. Inception too is not fat behind by any means. But, I feel that he got a bit confused somewhere around mid 2000s and failed to segregate his creative yearnings from his commercial obligations. On the contrary, Paul Thomas Anderson has only gone from strength to strength. His films continue to be what he wants them to be and not what his producers demand them to be. Nolan, though, has a long career ahead... I hope he is able to sort out his dilemmas soon. Also, I feel that you missed out on a few formidable names (from the perspective of international cinema) when you called Anderson and Nolan to be the defining directors of their generation. A few names that, IMHO, deserve a mention are Italian Paolo Sorrentino, Turkish Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Semih Kaplanoğlu, ‎Russian Andrey Zvyagintsev, Mexican Carlos Reygadas and Japanese Naomi Kawase.

    1. Whoo! Deep Breath... This is going to be a long ride. :)

      First of all, I hope you know that I LOVE PTA. He sure has gone from strength to strength and I hope he continues to. But I have problem with every other filmmaker you mentioned to praise him. Where there are aspects of their film making I absolutely adore and admire them for their craft, I can never get behind any one wholeheartedly. Every often they seem purposely obscure, unreachable and worse, indulgent. Maybe that's why I gravitate towards someone like Nolan as much as I do to PTA.

      As for Nolan, I am glad you like at least some of his work. He makes intelligent, thought provoking movies that respect me as a viewer. Sure they make truck loads of money but as long as they are quality films, I don't think anyone should have problem with it(as long as he doesn't become Michael Bay or even worse, James Cameron). We seem to disagree on his Batman trilogy but even with those I think he changed the superhero movie genre. Even there he proved that superhero movies don't have to be run-of-the-mill movies that most others are. They can be deeper, substantial movies as well. I actually respect him more for that though even I certainly prefer some of his other movies.

      And lastly, I took these two names with Hollywood in mind simply because I don't think comparing them with someone like Nuri Bilge Ceylan or Andrey Zvyagintsev would be right. Mainly because I don't think they have reach of either. I don't mean to demean anyone but that is a sad truth.

      Thanks for the great comment though, Murtaza!

  2. Such a great movie, especially with DDL's performance, which ranks as one of his best. And yes, that is really saying a lot. Good review Shantanu.

    1. Thanks Dan! Glad we agree on both counts - movie and DDL.

  3. It's true, the more movies you watch, the harder it is to be wowed. The life of a cinephile, indeed.

    That's why it's always great to revisit the flicks we love, like TWBB. What a masterpiece of a film this is. Perfect.

    1. Sigh! Life of a cinephile. :)

      But you know there is so much I haven't seen that is waiting for me. There are so many movies I really want to watch again for various reasons but I always put them second to ones I haven't seen. Again, life of a cinephile, I guess.

  4. I've got your back on this one, too, man. This is a perfect film, and it would easily rank among my all-time favorites.

    Also completely agree with this line: "No Country is as respectable Best Picture winner as you can find; a rare example of AMPAS doing something right despite getting it wrong." Both are phenomenal films, but yeah, I would give the edge to TWBB.

  5. Great write-up! You know I'm not as fond of DDL's performance (though, if I had 10 Best Actor nominees, he'd be in), but the film is one of 2007's finest offerings. 5/5 for sure. :)

    1. Thanks! I know, I know but I am glad at least you love the film. You win some, you lose some you know. :)


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