Paul Thomas Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD finally opens next week, three months after I saw it at Fantastic Fest and I simply cannot wait to see it again. When I saw it in September, there was certainly a bit of excitement regarding its screening (as one of the fest’s “Secret Screenings”, the audience didn’t know it was showing, but I had been tipped off early), as it was the world premiere with Anderson in attendance, but that kind of stuff settles down eventually and the entire audience (myself included, obviously) was astounded by what we saw; even the most jaded of Austin moviegoers (and there are be quite a few of them) were deeply impressed. It went beyond just a big festival buzz, because many of us felt we had seen a new American classic, a film that would be discussed for years on end. Sometimes audiences don’t quite catch up to the classics at first (BLADE RUNNER; THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and yet sometimes they do (THE GODFATHER; 2001; JAWS), and I’m hoping that when it opens next week that THERE WILL BE BLOOD will catch on, at the very least to that devoted, passionate moviegoer segment of the American public that will actually support the likes of a SIDEWAYS or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL while they’re still in theaters. We’ve got another new classic, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, a film almost as good as BLOOD, doing solid business in theaters right now, so I would hope that anyone who’s seen that one (and praised it to their friends) will also check out BLOOD theatrically. Video is great and all, but there are just some movies that are meant for theaters, and THERE WILL BE BLOOD is absolutely one of them.
One of my first reactions when I saw BLOOD is September (and a common reaction amongst the rest of the crowd) was that the Oscar race was over; just hand the damn awards to Anderson and Lewis and send everyone else home, because what film could be better? NO COUNTRY has come close, but now that BLOOD has been screening for a bit, the reaction from other camps has been (in a few cases) less enthusiastic than the one that greeted it in back in Austin. The main criticisms are twofold:
1) People find Lewis’ character utterly despicable and feel that the film contains no sympathetic characters, along with an overall lack of faith in humanity.
2) The last scene is, to some, over the top.
So OK, let’s address these issues. On issue 1, those who say this aren’t wrong - Lewis does indeed play someone with absolutely no positive attributes. Spending 160 minutes with such a character can suck a lot out of you, and when you consider that the other characters are pretty much cut from the same cloth then, yeah, it isn’t exactly a happy fun time at the movies. Certainly plenty of movies have been filled with assholes and scumbags, but with BLOOD there is no denying that it can be quite oppressive if the film isn’t gelling with you; I actually remember a bad review for GOODFELLAS that made that specific point, although it was from People Magazine, so that should tell you something there. It can take more than just great filmmaking for some folks to care for a movie, and if it’s not happening for you then it’s not happening for you at all. But what I would also like to point out that plenty of classic movies are about unsympathetic characters: RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, and THE GODFATHER are just a few. Isn’t a character study of an awful person as valid as one about a great one? Sure, you may find such a thing to be oppressive, but are you going to deny a filmmaker the opportunity to make such a story? Sometimes the most downbeat stories can lead to the most exciting storytelling and I think that THERE WILL BE BLOOD constitutes some of the most exhilarating filmmaking of the decade thus far. It’s potentially very downbeat, but you leave the theater excited because you know you’ve just been told a remarkable story in a brilliant fashion and to me that’s always thrilling.
And now, as we turn on the SPOILER ALERT neon sign (oh, how I wish I really had one of those for us bloggers – quick, one of you crafty readers invent one!) it comes time to discuss THERE WILL BE BLOOD’s final scene, a scene that is already generating a lot of discussion and seems to be a make-it-or-break-it scene for many. It’s interesting to note that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is likewise getting some negative reaction for its final scene, although with that one it’s more a matter of some folks just not “getting it” than anything else (oh, and because they were pissed it didn’t end in a big shootout, the dumb morons), but with BLOOD it’s less a matter of being too cryptic and a matter of being too literal. But this also ties into our previous point; by this point, Lewis’ lead character has become so untrusting and paranoid of all those who surround him that of course he’s going to go batshit insane, and of course he’s going to take this opportunity to take out his grudge against Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday. But what happens in this scene is so god damn hypnotic, beautifully written and acted (by both actors; why Dano isn’t getting more acclaim is startling to me), and emotionally overwhelming in many ways. The film has been leading up to this conclusion and it wouldn’t be worth much as a tragedy if it didn’t have such a finish. But what also fascinating to me about it to see Lewis’ character lose it after seeing him keep so many of his emotions bottled up inside. Not that I “enjoyed” the scene, but it has some perverse pleasures to it, especially the delight that he takes in humiliating Dano’s character so much, that you really, truly can’t take your eyes off it. It’s shocking when it’s all over, but you know that it was also inevitable and the film ends on one of the great closing lines of a movie that I can think of. Just perfect.
I’m sure that the blogosphere will be an interesting place for the next couple of weeks as countless film journalist and enthusiast discuss and debate the merits of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. I’m sure that I won’t be alone in my praise, but I will be more interested in reading what the naysayer’s have to say and if their points are valid in my mind. I’m also hoping that the film gains some momentum in the awards game, not only because it’s deserving but also so that it will get more and more people to see it. Whether or not it gets a Best Picture nomination (I feel like chances are good, but let’s wait and see) or not, I still feel in my heart of hearts that it’s the classic of 2007, a very good year for movies overall (thank goodness). Time is really what decides these things; THE DEPARTED may have won the Oscar last year, but CHILDREN OF MEN is the one that people still talk about and if BLOOD isn’t nominated or doesn’t win, that’s the way it will go. But I hope it goes in another direction, I really do.