Sat and watched this film last weekend and its taken me until now to work up enough feelings about it to write anything.
Really its not a bad film. In fact its fairly good from a "film" standpoint. Its just not nearly as good as modern critics like to think.
The director, Paul Thomas Anderson (he of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love) is something of a critical darling as is Daniel-Day-Lewis. They both make films that straddle the line between off-beat independent enterprises and mainstream movie making. "Critics" love this as they can pretend to maintain their "credibility" with positive reviews of such efforts while not teeing off the studios or public by disparaging a beloved or investment heavy enterprise.
Such is the case here.
There Will Be Blood has been ranked by many reviewers as not only the best film of the new century but as one of the best of all time. Some in in fact place it up with Citizen Kane for THE best film of all time. Really?
While the photography is quite good with the film looking amazing and Day-Lewis' performance quite strong, TWBB has some major issues.
Foremost amongst which is its difficulty portraying the passage of time. Like all films TWBB has problems as it tries to cover a large period of some 30 years. As a visual medium it simply can't handle the weight of all that can be encompassed within such periods. In cutting from one period to the next Anderson and Lewis try to convey the changes that have occurred in these off screen moments and fail. I constantly felt as if I was only getting snippets of time and not feeling as if I was within a cohesive narrative. It makes for very choppy storytelling--as if I was missing important chapters and guessing at the intervening action.
Secondly, and maybe its the result of the aforementioned problem with the coverage of time, the story just isn't that interesting. Sure, individual scenes are well done and some of the acting spectacular. Yes, the characters are multi-faceted and interestingly flawed. Again though, its like watching a number of disconnected short stories rather than one cohesive narrative. The viewers perception of Lewis' character swings so wildly from one scene to the next, it is hard to become emotionally invested in the film. The character I felt the most for was "HW", Lewis' adopted son in the film, who, if he had been made the focus, I feel could have carried its weight much better than that of his father and oil-man Daniel Plainview.
Which brings me to a last point. Filmed during the heart of the GW Bush administration, released in late '07 and dealing with an "oil-man", numerous critics looked at the film as an allegory to the Republican administration of the time. With Lewis' character of Daniel Plainview using questionable methods to enrich himself and his enterprise, critics jumped at the chance to draw correlations between the fictional and the real world. As usual, given time and distance from those events, these comparisons seem silly and sophomoric in retrospect. Our current democratic president is now overseeing oil prices as high and poised to go higher than they were under GW while invading an oil rich, Muslim country that poses no risk to American security. Will these same critics now go back and say that this film foreshadowed the questionable actions of our current president? I'm guessing not.
So watch the film if you will. Its likely worth it. Its just not one of the best films of this or any other century and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.