There Will Be Blood

Lassoing up the stragglers of 2007 has been no ecstatic task. The Kite Runner is clumpy, unconvincing, programmatic dung (typically, lauded for its sky-flying cinematography, which is all digitally managed) so typical of company men like Marc Foster, who also denuded whatever might’ve been interesting about Monster’s Ball or Finding Neverland (the latter is particularly woeful, given its material and the melancholy potentialities that rise up the spine of any awake reader of Andrew Birkin’s J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys), while Doug Wright’s Atonement vacillates between big-movie abbreviation and real estate porn, and genuinely moving images, and remains equally conflicted between Christopher Hampton’s crafty script and the presence of Keira Knightley, who resembles a tubercular Treblinka resident (at the 20th cigarette lighting, all one could think was, no, eat), and who is as pleasurable to watch as, and who has the responsive range of, one of the vampire extras in the Underworld movies. Still, I didn’t find the famed and reputedly ostentatious Dunkirk tracking shot inappropriate; I was happy for the space and time.

Like Juno, Margot at the Wedding is something of an abomination, a glib, arch, anything-for-an-uncomfortable-laugh-line family farce about a family no one has ever met, who say things to their parents and siblings and sons and perfect strangers than no human being has ever said, unless the meds have gone wanting on all fronts. ("I masturbated this morning," is Baumbach’s idea of an amusing/discomfiting non sequitur, said by adolescent son to mother.) All of which would be fine if everyone’s history of psychopharmacological tribulation was a prime subject for dialogue, which it isn’t, or if the film took place in a decaying southern mansion (even then). French movies that do this, and there have been a few, are not not lousy because they’re French, they’re just lousy, too. Which all might also be moot if anything else about the film was believable, from the falling tree to Nicole Kidman’s egomaniac forgetting her purse in the end, to the earwig she finds on her hand after having climbed thirty feet into a tree (earwigs, Noah, live under rocks and in the moist folds of patio cushions, not high up in trees).

Of course, Christian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a sharp, mean, leather-gloved slap in the face, with an arsenal of parallel-narrative weapons that all by themselves give the film a daunting gravity. But it’s been hosannaed elsewhere. It's Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood that's the shock to the system, an adaptation of Upton Sinclair that sheds everything I’ve always felt self-infatuated and annoying about Anderson’s films (never-say-when sophomoricism, pointless epic-ness, aimless traveling shots, excessive quirk), and comes at the turn-of-the-century oil-prospecting morality tale with a stunning sense of grandeur (every image has an iconic feel), a bewitching respect for actors and viewers (you’ll find no other recent American film so full of multi-character set-piece shots), a disorienting soundtrack that keeps you on the balls of your feet (by Jonny Greenwood), and Daniel Day-Lewis, making good on the small but entertaining bet he lost, via caricature and cheese, in Gangs of New York. Also, this is a film of uneasy textures and elisions; like Punch-Drunk Love, what we witness sometimes seems to evoke things we didn’t, and the filmmaker has no interest in spelling things out for us, but instead lets us stew and grapple with the mysteries of history. The best new American film of the year, and in the nick of time.




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