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Sunday, February 03, 2008

"I drink your milkshake!"

I was lucky to see Paul Thomas Anderson's multi-Oscar nominated There Will Be Blood on Saturday afternoon, and although I'm writing this a day later, I still think I haven't let enough time elapse before giving an assessment of this film that, for good or for bad, is truly extraordinary.

Ordinarily, critics see movies a week or more before they open, meaning they often have a long deadline for their review.In the case of this film, most critics will need that period to make their judgement on TWBB. My initial reaction was total befuddlement: I couldn't tell for sure if it was the greatest American movie in decades, or the most insane 2 hours and 40 minutes ever committed to celluloid.

I'm siding more with 'greatness' the more I think about it - and it is a movie that is impossible not to think about - but it's also flawed and totally, bag-of-cats mad.

But whatever opinion you form of this movie, there can be little doubt about the seismic, gargantuan achievement that is Daniel Day Lewis' performance as oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. In a role that has won him just about every Best Actor gong going this year, DDL has created one of the screen's most startling, understated, sensible, insane, generous, evil, charming, hideous, funny, vile, tragic, unsympathetic characters.

It's a pity for young actor Paul Dano that he has been so overshadowed by DDL, for the 23-year-old also delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as an insidious preacher and Daniel's arch-nemesis. These are astounding pieces of acting that, along with Jonny Greenwood's bizarre, atonal string score, makes for an unnerving, deeply unsettling first two hours, that finally explodes into barmy and barnstorming drama in the film's coda.

And this is where most viewers will make their lasting judgements of TWBB. PTA keeps this story of rampant captalism, religious fundamentalism and yes, bloody violence, bubbling away for the greater part of the movie, always only hinting at a potential explosion, kind of like the astonishing sequence where an oil pump strikes gold, but with devastating consequences.

The final 20 minutes will be ripe for parody, and indeed there are already re-edited and re-dubbed clips on YouTube ("Drainnnnaaage!" and "I drink your milkshake!" - coming soon to a T-shirt near you!). It's a completely bonkers sign-off, but one that seems fitting with what's gone before also. You'll get my point when you see it.

There Will Be Blood has haunted me like few films have in recent years. Images, words, and even fleeting gestures have burned into my mind. Oh this is a chin-stroker alright. This is a film about which you will have passionate opinions. You will argue and disagree about what it all means, and whether it's worthy of all the lavish praise it has attracted. I need to see it on the big screen rather than on a screener DVD - a story and a performance this big deserves that much. It's great to have a big, bold, brainy, bonkers epic to inspire such strongs feelings. There Will Be Blood is quite unlike anything you will see in cinemas this year.

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