Retrospecticus: Wrestling With There Will Be Blood

I don’t like There Will Be Blood. I think it’s poorly written. I think Daniel Day-Lewis gives a farcically over the top performance. I think it makes painfully obvious points. I think it’s far too long. I think the ending is a giant mistake. It just does not work for me.

This is not a popular opinion. The film is often hailed as the finest film of the year or neck and neck with No Country For Old Men. It won several oscars including one for DDL. It hasn’t been reevaluated even slightly and I honestly don’t expect it will because those that love it truly love it and frankly should. But try as I may, I don’t.

I find myself discussing this film during a spate of unpopular opinion threads online. I get why these flourish. Art tends to canonize fast. We know within a few days of release what we’re expected to think about a work. This is bizarre and absurd which makes going against canon fun. It feels good to question authority.

However, I can’t help but feel a bit dissatisfied with this concept, mostly because I feel like it legitimizes the idea of canon while trying to do the opposite. When you give an unpopular opinion, you’re saying that there is a popular opinion to go against. Yes, there are popular opinions but why do they matter? So much of art discussion is about the opinions of others, not our own. That’s where I am with this specific film. I feel like I can’t discuss it without reacting to others.

And that’s not what interests me about this film. I don’t find it works for me but it still fascinates me because of what does work. It’s gorgeously shot by Robert Elswit, every bit as warmly beautiful as his work on Michael Clayton was cold. Jonny Greenwood gives it a superb score. Paul Dano is a beast in the film while Kevin J. O’Connor delivers a wonderful turn as a funny, likable man who makes a mistake. Even Day Lewis gets a few superb scenes. As a result I could never call this a bad film. It’s deeply imperfect but it’s obviously well made.

This gets to something deeper. I gave my reasons for disliking the film at the top but I’ve overlooked these flaws in other films. They’re concrete things I can point to but they’re not the entire reason I’m cold on this film. In fact they’re at least things I remember a decade later.

What I think my real problem with this movie comes down to is I probably wouldn’t ever connect to it. I’m not interested in the subject matter and writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s very ethereal handling of the plot didn’t make up for that initial disinterest. I also came in with a preconceived notion of Anderson’s work and this weirdly moody but not dense film wasn’t it. Much like Spike Jonze’s distancing work on Where The Wild Things Are, I didn’t get what I normally expect from an artist and didn’t care for what I got instead.

So in the end, I continue to wrestle with this film. It’s not for me but others love it. I can respect that. I just don’t agree.

Next week: A look at 2007 in comics.

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