Sunday, February 3, 2008

The most despicable character in the history of American film

That's what I said as I was walking out of the theater after seeing "There Will Be Blood", the master work of acting by Daniel Day-Lewis as early 20th century oil tycoon Daniel Plainview in the adaptation of the book by Upton Sinclair. Can't say enough rotten things about him - the character that is. The acting is deep, intense and regardless of who else is nominated this year, Oscar worthy. In fact, he should be nominated next year, too.
I had an argument with a radio host/movie critic once, after he said that it is necessary for the lead character in a film to be likable in order for the film to be likable. I argued to the contrary. Since then, several popular films have been successful in spite of dislikable lead characters, "Wall Street" among them. This one is the latest, but Daniel Plainview makes Gordon Gecko look like a boy scout.
The film is at once arresting and disturbing, but it probably accurately depicts life among the oil men in turn-of-the-century America. They were ruthless and competitive. That much hasn't changed in 100 years, only the location.
If the idea of this film is, at least in part to show us that oil has been a blood sport since the beginning, it succeeds handsomely. It also depicts life in America's oil boom days, when things were happening in California and Texas, and men went where the oil was.
The film centers around Plainview and his quest to acquire property in and around the Sunday family, good church-going folk who know nothing of the fortune that rests under their feet until Plainview and his oil drillers show up.
We spend the early part of the film trying to figure out whether or not Plainview is a genuine character, wishing to do good and make himself wealthy, or if he is indeed a snake and only out for his own gain. It doesn't take long to figure out which.
I will give you one little hint that gives nothing of the plot away. The characters Paul and Eli Sunday are identical twins, and it is not adequately explained in the film. You will see Paul Sunday first, then he will disappear, and his brother Eli will emerge, and you will wonder if they just look alike or are the same person. It turns out they are played by the same actor, Paul Dano (who played older brother Dwayne in "Little Miss Sunshine"). I spent a few minutes working that out in my head, so I figured I'd save you the trouble.
Even though the film is dark, disturbing and truthful, I would highly recommend it. Mostly for the masterwork of Day-Lewis whose performance is riveting to the point that you think he is possessed by the character.
It's one of the must-see films of 2008. In fact, if you're reading this soon, you can skip the stupid Super Bowl and see this instead.


Kate Michele said...

I love Day-Lewis i think he is brilliant. "Dark, disturbing and truthful"...sounds familiar.. i think i will like this film. I will have to carve time out to see it.

Your comment about the film having to have a likable lead character reminds me of something i have always said about the Sapranos. Every one, especially women [myself included] loved Tony. But we as the watcher saw all he did, was not fooled my him... and inspite of that still liked him. Women still were hot for him, albet unexplainable. ANd this is one of the reasons that that show was so good...and so critically accalaimed. SO yes I agree with you about the likable character vs likable movie comment. :D

James said...

This was one of the most compelling films that I have seen in a long damn time. Day-Lewis is brilliant and mesmerizing as he pulls off the twisted, complicated oil tycoon.

It's an amazing film to see how a man descends into madness. It's like watching a train wreck, you can't take your eyes off it.

I hope he wins Best Actor at the Oscars, it would be highway robbery if not.

P.T. Anderson is a brilliant director. I got into him with his movie, "Hard Eight" and loved "Boogie Nights."

I couldn't agree more that a good film doesn't always need a "good character." I've always wanted to see a film without a happy ending. It's more true to life where things don't always work out the way we plan them.

Kate Michele said...

Exactly James: Life aint not fairytale.

Sparky Duck said...

2 hours and 40 minutes? No thank you

Ladyred said...

I didn't know what that movie was about. Only seen the poster. But last time I went to a movie it was $10. I was so dumbfounded that I kept screaming at the box office guy for change.

Anyway, I may look into it. I used to work for an oil company. I still have stock in one. That was my first job and I really loved it.

Last movie I saw ($0 tyvm since I'm in Savannah for a few days) was 27 Weddings. Yea.....not one you would care to Not my idea but what the niece wants to see......