Monday, February 4, 2008

Oil Runs Thicker Than Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is an engrossing tale, as large as the landscape it fills, and about as bleak. It's a modern day parable of greed told through two characters. The central character is Daniel Plainview, first introduced in a stunning, wordless introduction that sets the ominous, gritty tone perfectly, working hand in hand with the stunning cinematography, which negotiates between claustrophobic darkness and expansive sepia-toned frontiers, and Jonny Greenwood's immensely effective score (more on that later). Daniel is an oil tycoon, who fights mercilessly for what he wants, which is power. His rival, and in many ways double, is Eli Sunday, the youthful evangelist who runs the local church. Filling out the relationships are Eli's father Abel who sells Daniel the farm for drilling in hopes of a better life and H.W., Daniel's son who helps soften Daniel's image if not his heart and conscience. Eli and Daniel are locked in a battle of, well, Biblical proportions, equally greedy to not only win the town's hearts but to do so at the expense of the other. This is a dark parable of the American dream, feeding hungrily off the best of American cinematic epics. The characters are large, and their shadows are more than filled by two intense performances, most notably Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel, whose voice ever so slowly slides from slick to mad, often accompanied by sickening smiles and flinty eyes, drool, laughter, and silences. It is a bravura performance, one that towers over anything else, although Paul Dano's quieter Eli often alludes to the same fierceness in his own way. Both men battle each other at the expense of all around them, and the sprawling epic traces this battle to its gut-punching end.

The score, as I mentioned, is fantastic. It's darkly chromatic, working not as your typical score, but at times as its own dramatic agent. The opening strains slide from a dense cluster to a single pitch, saying more than anything else about the opening few seconds about what is to come. It is percussive at times, but the string writing is particularly inventive, alternating between stern passages of intensity to more fluid sections of darkly expressive music that hovers on the edge of sentiment but remains firmly clear-eyed, reminiscent of Berg I thought. This has been a year of exceptional music (I was recently reminded of the brilliant use of Handel's Messiah in Charlie Wilson's War, but this towers above them in its declaration that music can do so much, placing this film among such lofty company as Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey and On the Waterfront. It's a crime this film was overlooked for a nomination for Best Original Score. It is not only the best score of the year (not to mention film), but the most original.


  • I'm totally with you on the score. The reason it's not up for an Oscar is that not enough of it is original to be eligible (see here).

    By Blogger Jack, At February 5, 2008 at 9:03 AM  

  • I know, although it's a strange reason (decided fairly late into the process). I mean, composers have lifted themes from their own work (not to mention elsewhere) throughout most of film music. There's an interesting article in the Journal of Film Music that traces every one of Herrmann's self-borrowings, and there's a lot.

    By Blogger Dan B., At February 5, 2008 at 2:08 PM  

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