There Will Be Bland

I don't get it.

I just don't get it.

The New York Times calls it “epic” and “mesmerizing.” Rolling Stone calls it a “beautiful beast of a movie.” The Chicago Tribune calls it a “majestic crackpot of a film” (I think that's a compliment.) The acclaim is almost universal. And it is clear that the Motion Picture Academy is going to shower this film with little statuettes. There are but a few dissenting voices, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, and me. While others were “mesmerized,” I found myself looking at my watch several times during the course of the 158 minutes of There Will Be Blood. The movie is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel, Oil!. Now, I have not personally read Sinclair's works, but I am sure that they cannot be as bad, a plot-less, as heavy-handed as this movie about one Daniel Planview (played by Daniel-Day Lewis).

We first meet Plainview as a struggling silver prospector, a human grub buried in the earth picking for bits of ore. 158 minutes later, we see him grubbing alone in his mansion, in much the same poses. Between the mine and the mansion, not much happens. Or at least, not much in the way of plot or character development. That is, we don't know much more about Plainview at the end then we knew at the beginning. That is to say, he is a greedy, driven bastard at the beginning, and is pretty much the same at the end. But we never know why, we never get any insight into him, save some hints about his business methods, which may, perhaps come in handy if you are ever trying to get poor people to sign over their mineral rights; other than that, I didn't learn much from the film, and I learned almost nothing about Daniel Planview, who seems to be on camera about 90% of the time. That's a lot of time to spend with a perfect stranger.

We do meet Daniel's “son,” a boy he adopted so that he could present himself as a “family man” when fleecing the locals, and whom he abandons when convenient. We also meet Eli Sunday, a hypocritical preacher who, like the oilman, is in it for the money. Nor surprisingly, we don't learn much about Eli either. And we meet a man who claims to be Plainview's half-brother, whose stories are as close as the movie comes to revealing something about Plainview himself, but that turns out to be both not much and not very interesting. Plainview kills the man, and serves him right, for adding 20 more boring minutes to this already boring film. Now, I like a good depiction of greedy business men and phony preachers as much as the next man, but I would like to learn a little bit about them, other then the mere facts of their oil leases and phony miracles. In truth, The Simpsons have a more nuanced depiction of Monty Burns and Ned Flanders then this movie gives us of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday.

This role is not Daniel-Day Lewis's best; there is simply not enough character development for him to exercise his talents. The film has some virtues: there are vast scenic vistas (mostly bleak landscapes) and the odd oil well explosion. Other than that, the movie is bland; the scenery is in Technicolor, but the characters are in monochrome.


Vi Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 3:31:00 PM CST  

Hi John,

Haven't seen the movie myself, but the depiction of business people or clergy as bad always seems to stir Hollywood's juices, and having a member of each so treated must be a special treat for such limosine liberals. It reminds me analogously of the TV program "Friends". I could see why those living in such circumstances, or who remember so living as seen on the show would relish such a portrait. (Not to mention the gorgeous women.) But I felt the writing was sophomoric, and HS soph at that, never mind college. Why, oh why, if such a show was wanted, couldn't it have been of genuine wit? I guess people just praise what they can get in terms of themes, and so perhaps it is with "There Will Be Blood" as with the television show.

Btw, gave it the same rating as the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Baltimore Sun gave it an even lower rating, in case you'd like to read some fellow skeptics about its greatness.


s Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 4:03:00 PM CST  

Thank you, John. You speak towards the heart of the matter here. Sometimes, I feel as if people have convinced themselves that it MUST be an important movie, because why else would it be so long, would the main characters chew scenery with such fervor, would there be a conspicuous lack of women, would the music swell and drone with such intensity and (melo)drama.

Speaking of which, it is a shame that such an evocative musical score is stuck on this movie. It didn't get nominated for an Oscar because it belongs, perhaps, on another movie. Perhaps, one day, that movie will be made.

Anyhow, I agree with you wholeheartedly.

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