there will be a waste of talent

I saw There Will Be Blood last night. My review, in brief:

Good stuff first: Some nice cinematography, a few good performances, a couple of haunting and cathartic moments, a few smart sound design choices (pulleys of an oil rig sounding like church bells, for instance) but what are we supposed to make of the rest of the movie? The movie was at its best when it explored the relationship between the main character and his younger counterpart, but it didn’t spend enough time on this to warrant a 150+ minute film.

This movie impressed me as slow, cynical, nihlistic, self-indulgent and self-important. A thematic mess. Characters whose motivations we don’t understand, especially the main character. (What is his backstory? We know almost nothing about this sociopath) On-the-nose dialogue that is embarassingly bad. The sound design / score constantly called attention to itself.

If someone finds depth and intelligence in this movie, I think it’s because of their own effort, and not because of what the film offered. Definitely not a strong candidate for Best Picture. Okay, I get that it highlights the evils of oil and Christian fundamentalism (in an election year, of course!). We get the refrain that George Bush is evil. This makes the movie trite and predictable.

Jeffrey Overstreet calls this film “a masterpiece.” I don’t think he has interpreted the film on its own terms; instead, he has imposed his own worldview on the movie — this is eisegesis, not exegesis.

How did this movie get a Best Picture nomination, and not The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?

Barbara Nicolosi shares her thoughts on the movie here. And lots of discussion in her combox here.

If you have a different opinion, please post a comment. I am honestly interested in alternate viewpoints / insights.

2 thoughts on “there will be a waste of talent

  1. “A thematic mess. Characters whose motivations we don’t understand, especially the main character. (What is his backstory? We know almost nothing about this sociopath) On-the-nose dialogue that is embarassingly bad. The sound design / score constantly called attention to itself.”The theme is something like: Man dooms himself to a personal hell when he places himself and his own acquisitiveness over his ties to other people. This theme is consistently reiterated by the protagonist’s actions and then punctuated in the last climactic scene. I think it’s a simple theme, but most themes are. The film doesn’t need to relate the protagonist’s backstory — or explain the cause of his actions in any other way — to make an audience understand his motivation. The filmmaker’s only obligation is to establish what the protagonist wants, and allow us to relate to what he wants. Plainview wants to beat everyone else, but he’s conflicted because he also wants to establish and maintain some kind of human ties. He says there’s a competition in him. He hates people but he needs them. To some degree, I think we can all relate to that. He’s as much a sociopath as any of us. “On-the-nose dialogue that is embarassingly bad.” Characters never say what they mean, think, or feel in the film, the one exception being Plainview’s admission to his “brother” and HW’s final speech to his dad. Their speech is naturalistic while conveying exposition, revealing their internal states, and moving the plot forward. I thought the dialogue was as good as any I’ve ever heard. I didn’t notice the sound design at all, which I think is a good thing. The score was noticeable, mainly for it’s dissonance, which I thought worked well to underscore the unsettling nature of the events. PTA says he thinks of the film as a horror movie. Plainview ends up in a hell of his own making, despite several opportunities for redemption.What else can I say. I thought the movie was beautiful and moving and horrifying in all the right ways. But my other favorite films of the year were Eastern Promises and No Country for Old Men, so I tend to like this sort of thing.

  2. Anonymous,I need to digest this.If I had noticed the things you noticed, I might have liked the movie. Not sure I agree, but I can see why you would like a movie like the one you described.

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