Notes from There Will Be Blood New York premiere

screened Monday December 10 2007 at the Ziegfeld Theater, NYC IMDb So I sweet-talked my way into the screening (I won't say how exactly) and once I got my pass, I made a bee-line for the bathroom, queuing up for the urinal behind  a guy in a snazzy orange plaid suit.  He turns around and whoaaa!

That's  Emily Watson's profile on the right.

So I take my place in the seat listed on my ticket, amidst some young suits and suitesses who give me the eye.  One of them insists I'm in the wrong seat.  I insist I'm not.  He looks at my ticket, then looks at me and asks, "Are you a friend of Paul?"  Oh, what if I had said yes...

After I was kindly escorted out of the friends of the director area into an equally good spot, I settled in and was treated to what may very well be the best American film of the year.   I've been kind of reserved in my praise of the film in conversations with people who've seen it, if only because others I've talked to have been effulgent in their praise.  Without spoiling it for people who haven't yet seen it, I'll just mention that my main quibble for the film is with Paul Dano's character.  It's not that he gives a bad performance per se - Dano was the best thing about Little Miss Sunshine and here he does everything he knows best according to how I assume the character was developed by him and PT Anderson.  I just find that character conception lacking, not the least because the finale is set up to be such a mega-movie confrontation that it demands so much more of an equal to Daniel Day-Lewis' monstrous creation than what we see.    So basically Dano's character befalls the same fate as DiCaprio's puny protagonist in Gangs of New York.  Ironically, I think DiCaprio as he stands today - older, more fearsomely mature in his ineffable charisma, would have been the perfect counterbalance to Day-Lewis' Plainview.  Imagining Leo in the last scene, reduced to eating humble pie and a bowling pin, works a lot better for me than a Dano.

That aside, the film is pretty much perfect.  And in the time I've had to mull over the screning in the past week, my qualms aren't enough of a stain on the overall film to detract it from a rating of

YES

I've made a lot of comparisons in my head between this film and No Country for Old Men in the past week.  To cut to the quick, I'll just say that my misgivings about No Country amounting to an impeccably executed genre exercise were pretty much cemented after seeing There Will Be Blood.  As impressively detail-oriented as the Coens were, Anderson's film is equally  immersed in its world, hammering out every detail as intensely as the recurring image of Day-Lewis hammering away at the world with pickaxes, shovels, gun barrels and bowling pins.  But what takes Anderson's film a league beyond in my book is the energy behind it.  I applaud the Coens for being more restrained in their absurdist scenarios with this last film, but looking at how There Will Be Blood moves through one amazing scene after another while barely calling attention to its own consummate craft, the studiedness of the Coens' set pieces feel precious in comparison.

On my second day of vacation (first day was spent at the New Jersey DMV, sampling Latino delicacies in Union City, and then making the 3,000 mile commute to SF) I finally got a moment to read the point/counterpoint between reviews on the film by Ed Gonzalez and Nick Schager on Slant.  Nick seems to be a step ahead of me in having no reservations lauding the film despite finding the same weaknesses in the Paul Dano character as I've mentioned above.  Ed's review is one of the few takedowns of the film published so far, and while his litany of grievances is as rangy as a PT Anderson film, his distrust over the film's ambiguous characterizations, character motivations, lack of humanism and substance beyond its ecstatic style are deserve consideration.  But if all of this were true, then what's No Country for Old Men doing on his top ten list?