That was the rewind movie fantasy playing over in my head as I walked out of the theater last night. All I needed to complete the dream was a steak flank in my hand a la Daniel Plainview.
Anderson's sophomoric harangue against budding American capitalism is nothing more than a one note rant. Multiply that note by 158, and you've got a slog of a movie.
In Oliver Stone's far superior Wall Street, the good and bad consequences of American capitalistic ambition were given an even shake and a human face. Viewers were able to relate to the familiar "American dream" dreams of Bud while he's forced to play pickle between the ethical polarities of Gordan Gekko and his father. The only moment in TWBB that comes close to this type of probing, is when Daniel - in a flashback sequence - joyfully pats his son H.W. on the head before heading towards an oil derrick. Beyond that, we only get Gekkos.
P.T. Anderson thought he was being clever and timely by using a decades old socialist novel as There Will Be Blood's source material, thus championing Upton Sinclair as some kind of prophet for our Bush-era oil crisis. But what Anderson fails to see is that he only ends up exposing the lack of progress in thought from the pages of that dusty jacket propoganda sixty years hence.
But more than anything, There Will Be Blood is weighed down by its directors grappling preoccupation with himself. There is more self-fulfilling autobiography in There Will Be Blood than the adept character study that critics have been praising it for. Admittedly, P.T. Anderson's scattershot ambition, just like Daniel's, is watchable - and it's near impossible to take your eyes off Daniel Day-Lewis - but it's ultimately an ugly, spectacular failure. It's Michael Cimino and Heaven's Gate all over again.
"There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking... I see the worst in people". Again, these words come from Plainview, but they appropriately sum up Anderson's newfound fashionable misanthropy. To make matters worse, Film Comment just recently threw Anderson and Cinematographer Robert Elswit in the same sentence with Coppola/Willis, Altman/Zsigmond, and Peckinpah/Coquillon (among others). This wasn't so much an insult to past greats as it was a reminder of how low the quantity of quality has fallen.
Actually, no, that's wrong. It's not our films. It's the cultural gatekeepers that have fallen. Take, for example, that other movie by that other Anderson... you know, the barely talked about The Darjeeling Limited. Here we had a cross-section of class and cultures that bristled with interfamilial emotion and popped with total visual mastery. Surely, if Wes Anderson had his trio of American males arrive in India to rape women and open a Starbucks, his film would've banked a 92 Metascore and garnered a nomination for Best Picture.
So it goes...
Over the years, There Will Be Blood should make a nice companion movie with David Cronenberg's A History of Violence - that ludicrous pseudo-expose of heartland violence - for that growing group of chic Americans that love to love movies that make them feel bad about themselves.
"THEY .... DRINK .... THIS .... BULLSHIT! THEY DRINK IT UP!"