There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

2007

While IMDB classes There Will Be Blood as a drama it very much had the feel of a Western to me and as you all know that spells disaster for me. Add to that Daniel Day-Lewis as the protagonist and the film basically became a write off in my opinion. I’m by no stretch of the imagination a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s often lauded as one of the great actors of Hollywood, largely due to his ability to completely lose himself in any character he deigns to portray, but I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Indeed I saw a lot of echoes (or should I say foreshadowings as this film predates his latest Oscar-winning performance in Lincoln, 2012, Steven Spielberg) of Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln in the character of Plainview. And I wasn’t overly enamoured of either performance. “The notoriously selective and methodical Daniel Day-Lewis gives an indelible performance as antihero Daniel Plainview – who turns nature’s resources into his own bounty, regardless of the cost to him and the world.” (909, Jonathan Penner, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

There Will Be BloodGiven that the oil business is a highly competitive one, especially at the turn of the century during it’s infancy, not a lot really happens in the film. There are of course a couple of fairly awful accidents that serve the double purpose of being visually exciting and moving the story on. The first accident serves to establish Plainview and his character. Let me tell you it’s not a positive introduction in my view. While some may view Plainview’s adoption of the child orphaned as a result of the accident as a noble act, one undertaken out of a sense of guilt at having been the foreman/owner of the mine at the time I see it completely differently. He does not adopt that child out of the goodness of his heart but rather as a calculated move. He doesn’t see this child as the vulnerable thing it is but rather a tool to use to aid his own agenda.

I suppose you could argue that my view is somewhat of a strong one in light of Plainview’s reaction to the second accident and I do believe that by that point he will have formed some attachment to poor HW. However once the extent of the damage to HW becomes obvious he is quickly shipped off. And while it is for his best, as he learns to live with the ramifications of the accident, when he returns Plainview has little time for him.

Like I said not very much happens although I suppose you could argue that the film is less about any narrative but rather the decline of Plainview. And yet he doesn’t seem to be an overly greedy person. He is definitely a master at manipulating people to get them to part with things at a much reduced cost with no promise of any profit but it’s only at the tail end of the film do you see any sort of material wealth that Plainview has amassed over the years.

I’m going to confess that it did take me a while to work out that Paul Dano was playing twins although both performances were, as usual, filled with a quiet power that I’ve come to expect from Dano.

Penner says that “There Will Be Blood, his excoriating study of greed – and the both constructive and destructive powers of competitiveness and ambition – is a stunning achievement by the still-young writer-director.” (909) And yet the only bit of the film that really captured any of my attention was the few scenes involving ASL (American Sign Language) as that particular means of communication absolutely fascinates me. Aside from that I found the film somewhat anticlimactic and overly drawn out – to the point that I don’t think I could actually tell you what happened at the end of the film is you asked me to!

Winchester ’73

Director:Anthony Mann

1950

 To say I’m not a fan of the Western genre is a gross understatement. In fact it is the one genre that I struggle to watch – it always feels like a chore to watch a Western. Even Michael Fassbender could not keep me interested in a Western (Slow West, 2015, John Maclean), which if you knew me and how much I love Fassbender gives you some indication how insufferable I find the genre. As such it’s always with some trepidation that I approach a Western in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (and lord knows there’s a lot of them in there!!) I know, I know, I should go into every film with an open mind and no preconceptions but I just can’t seem to do that with Westerns.

“The Westerns these two men made together are unusually bitter and starkly beautiful, with fascinating overtones of moral uncertainty.” (249, Ethan de Seife, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Despite this rant Winchester ’73 wasn’t quite as insufferable as the other films in this genre I have watched for this blog. For one thing it was relatively short, coming in at just over 90 minutes. But more importantly there was some sense of an actual plot and very little brooding or posturing. And probably my favourite aspect was that while there was a damsel, as expected, she wasn’t so much in distress. In fact she was more than capable of looking after herself which in my opinion is a much better representation of women in that time. After all the Wild West was a tough place and living there couldn’t have been easy – sissy pampered prima donnas wouldn’t have survived in that period – no problem for Shelley Winters’ Lola. “The cast is extremely strong. Shelley Winters is excellent, and the supporting players include such versatile character actors as Millard Mitchell, Stephen McNally, Will Geer, and the incomparable Dan Duryea.” (249)

Winchester '73James Stewart is charismatic as Lin McAdams, who is very clearly the ‘White Hat’ or hero of this piece. He is quietly commanding without becoming dull and brooding like so many other leading men in Westerns. “His character, Lin McAdams, is an unusual hero – somewhat tentative, even if he is the film’s moral center.” (249)

IMDB gives the following synopsis for Winchester ’73 : “The journey of a prized rifle from one ill-fated owner to another parallels a cowboy’s search for a murderous fugitive” and it sums up the narrative kind of perfectly. The much desired rifle, the titular Winchester ’73, is really the driving force for the narrative, going through numerous owners, while Lin’s hunt for a dangerous fugitive (or Black Hat) takes a backseat for the majority of the film before taking the lead during the film’s climax.

There was remarkably little melodrama which made the film so much more enjoyable for me – that and the lack of painfully obvious, and thus frustrating, musical cues of themes. All in all while I can’t say honestly that I will watch Winchester ’73 again it turned out to be the most engaging Western I have watched for this blog. Maybe I’ll even give Slow West another go on the back of this experience.