In Which Paul Thomas Anderson Holds Back For Once

Finding You Where You Are, Cutting Your Throat

by Alex Carnevale

There Will Be Blood

158 minutes

dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

After his bizarre 2002 film, Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson took awhile to find himself. A talented writer and and an even more talented director, Paul’s ability to generate his own material and inability to direct other people’s material put him, like Quentin Tarantino, in a difficult spot.

The auteurs that Anderson and Tarantino idolize largely wrote their own material, too. Writing is difficult, writing original material that will be judged against your previous masterworks even more so.

post-screening Anderson and Day-Lewis Q and A (mp3)

As Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis oozes charisma. He would have been a great choice to play Sarah Connor in the new Terminator TV series. He’s spectacular here, and I don’t think there’s a scene he’s not in.

With a meditative beginning, an action-y middle, and abbreviated Wellesian ending, There Will Be Blood is paced beautifully.

PTA movie recommendations

FI: Was it Anderson’s script that hooked you?

DDL: It always begins with a script. If the script doesn’t appeal to you, it doesn’t matter how much you admire a man through his work. You have to begin with that initial shocking encounter. He’s a wonderful writer, quite apart from everything else. Then other things begin to simmer away there, too. Certainly I’ve been a huge admirer of Paul’s work, and I like spending time with him as a man, too.

“My Lady’s House” – Iron and Wine (mp3)

Back in 2002, I went to see one of the first screenings of Punch-Drunk Love, at Harvard. PTA was hung-over and sniffling like a drug-addict afterwards. It was obvious the movie was a work of love, and even more obvious that the film was a lovely disaster.

Q: So how did you two get together to make this movie?

Anderson: I knew through the grapevine that Daniel had liked “Punch-Drunk Love” a lot, so I felt confident enough to ask him to read the script I was writing. It worked out really nicely just because our lives were at a good spot. He was ready to work and I was in New York at the same time he was in New York. So, long afternoon walks and really good breakfasts.

Day-Lewis: We really tucked away some ham and eggs.

The fun thing to watch over the course of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career is his shifting directorial style. Normally he’s not exactly Mr. Subtle, and there are scenes here in which both actors and directors might have held back more. But for the most part, There Will Be Blood an innovative, brilliantly stylized film.  

The opening sequence itself is Leone meets Scorcese, and the film’s more violent passages don’t make you recall any other director. They are moving and brilliant in new ways.  If this is the next evolution of PTA, that’s great. This film may be the shortest-feeling 3 hour film ever made.

 

While There Will Be Blood is a more than satisfying movie, only in this empty year could it be considered a best picture. It has no women, it has no suspense. It has many flaws. It is written and directed beautifully; I still can’t imagine it being of interest to much more than PTA fanboys and cowboys.

Of course, sometimes the most narrow things appeal to the widest audiences, but I still have a hard time thinking of someone who would enjoy this film, even though I did.

That’s unfair, I’m sure. As someone who would give Paul a kidney, I was expecting a lot. I sat through Magnolia enthralled, and Boogie Nights and Hard Eight kick-started my inevitable ventures into pornography and prostitution.

Maybe There Will Be Blood was Paul proving he could make a film like this. From the critical reaction, he must feel satisfied that he’s back in the good graces of the general public. If this means less sprawling masterpieces and more conventional studio films from one of the finest talents in Hollywood, I’ll take the latter should it mean more movies in the next five years than he made in the last five.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Woman King” – Iron and Wine (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Experimental poetry worth reading.

We went to the war.

These pictures disturb us.

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9 thoughts on “In Which Paul Thomas Anderson Holds Back For Once

  1. It seems like you’re low-balling both TWBB and 2007 as a movie year. It also feels cheap to say a bunch of good things about a movie everyone loves, and conclude by saying that it isn’t so great.

    I request a refund in the form of a second TWBB post.

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