One common feature of the many film critics’ Top 10 lists this year was the consistent, though not universal, presence of There Will Be Blood. Hardly anyone had seen it at the time the lists came out since it had opened only a couple days before the new year, just in time to qualify for Oscar nominations (and Top 10 lists).
If I didn’t know that Hollywood is an honest place where altruistic people dedicate their lives to Art, I might suspect that some sort of fix was in. The pre-release buzz was so laudatory and breathless that it took me three tries to get near the picture at all as every show was sold out hours in advance.
Blood tells the story of a turn-of-the-century oil prospector and entrepreneur against a backdrop of frontier life in the Southwest circa 1900. The title suggests an epic tale of ruthless competition for the black gold and the accompanying pervasive social and political corruption, a sort of Chinatown with tumbleweed.
Instead, we get derricks-by-Disney. Daniel Day-Lewis, starring as Snidely Whiplash, masticates his lines en route to full dastardliness around the fourth reel. His main antagonist is a pimply lad who fancies himself a faith-healer and whose preaching is about as lively as a sixth-grade Christmas pageant. Although a good decade elapses in the course of the film, the kid’s stilted dialogue doesn’t advance any further than his facial hair; even his spots remained fixed in place.
But no matter—his job is to be a pious creep, rile Day-Lewis and annoy us so that we can relish his come-uppance. Even more annoying, though, are the three hours we spend watching this sprawling mess of a movie trudge to its pointless conclusion.
By the end we’ve seen a few bits of frontier lore, observed the primitive and dangerous mechanics of early oil extraction, and watched a parade of characters roll by in matching period costumes. But the personages are as flat as the cut-out buildings of the hokey western sets.
Blood isn’t the worst movie around, but it’s sloppy, unconvincing and an awful bore. Why anyone would dare call this clunker a ‘masterpiece’ is a total mystery. However, if a Gucci bag full of cool electronics were to appear on my doorstep, I promise to praise it as great filmmaking.