There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)

There Will Be Blood. I don’t know where to start. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is biggest thing in the film–it’s the film, after all. Without Day-Lewis, the film’s not possible. Director Anderson gives Day-Lewis some quiet at the beginning of the picture to establish himself; there’s nothing to do but stare as the music comes up, as Robert Elswit’s photography contains the carefully executed action. Day-Lewis transfixes and never lets go.

But Blood is, beneath all its epic trappings, just a character study. It’s such an intense character study, Anderson is more than willing to let the narrative take a back seat to Day-Lewis’s performance. While the setting and the script are all meticulous, their details are background. Day-Lewis exists in front of them, directly in between the viewer and the story.

At the same time, Anderson goes out of his way with the grandiosity. Between Elswit’s photography, Jonny Greenwood’s music and Jack Fisk’s production design, every moment of Blood has audiovisual impact. Anderson and Elswit do these incredibly complex tracking shots from time to time; they’re breathtaking filmmaking but they never betray the film’s focus. The viewer’s attention is on Day-Lewis.

Anderson’s concentration–the way he forces the viewer to pay attention–mirrors Day-Lewis’s concentration. Just the time he loses that concentration is when Anderson forces the viewer to start re-evaluating things.

Great support from Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier and Ciarán Hinds.

It’s a brilliant film. Every moment’s absolutely perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on a novel by Upton Sinclair; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Jonny Greenwood; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by JoAnne Sellar, Anderson and Daniel Lupi; released by Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Eli Sunday), Kevin J. O’Connor (Henry), Ciarán Hinds (Fletcher) and Dillon Freasier (HW).


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The Road Within (2014, Gren Wells)

The Road Within is a story about finding yourself. Every guy in the movie finds himself. The women don’t find themselves but they help the guys find themselves. How do you find yourself? By rebelling.

Except Road is about people with mental disorders. Lead Robert Sheehan has Tourettes, his romantic interest (Zoë Kravitz) has anorexia and his roommate (Dev Patel) has really bad OCD. Kyra Sedgwick is their chain smoking doctor, Robert Patrick is Sheehan’s dad (who has anger management issues). The movie gets off to a strange start in Sedgwick’s clinic because no one else is anywhere near as sick as Sheehan, Kravitz and Patel. It’s only natural they’d steal Sedgwick’s car and head west through beautiful country as they each confront their demons.

As a director, Wells knows how to compose a pretty shot. Everything in Road is pretty, even when they’re supposed to be in a crappy town. The beauty of the world around us is curative. Unless you’ve got anorexia, in which case the love of a good man just isn’t enough to fix you.

Road is always trite–Wells’s script hits every trite trope she can find–but it isn’t until the last act it actually gets offensive. It works its way through a checklist of resolutions then has a happy-ish ending on a lovely beach boardwalk.

The characters are poorly written but all the actors do well, especially Kravitz and Patrick (who have the worst characters).

It’s not their fault Road’s baloney.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gren Wells; screenplay by Wells, based on a film written by Florian David Fitz; director of photography, Christopher Baffa; edited by Gordon Antell and Terel Gibson; music by Josh Debney and The Newton Brothers; production designer, Nanci Roberts; produced by Brent Emery, Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Guy J. Louthan and Robert Stein; released by Well Go USA Entertainment.

Starring Robert Sheehan (Vincent), Dev Patel (Alex), Zoë Kravitz (Marie), Robert Patrick (Robert) and Kyra Sedgwick (Dr. Rose).


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On the Waterfront (1954, Elia Kazan)

On the Waterfront is relentlessly grim until the strangest moment in the finale. As the film finally reaches the point of savage, physical violence–it opens with the implication, but not the visualization of such violence–a supporting character (familiar but mostly background) makes a wisecrack. Until that point in the film, director Kazan forcibly pushes even the possibility of a smile away.

And even though Waterfront is desolate–gorgeously desolate with Boris Kaufman’s photography–there’s still positive emotion among its residents. Eva Marie Saint’s compassion and tenderness, not to mention she and lead Marlon Brando’s love story, aren’t grim but Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg don’t let any light in. There’s no beauty in tenderness, just the inevitability of it being taken away. With prejudice.

But Kazan acknowledges this level of negativity. Leonard Bernstein’s score booms and quiets, races and slows, drawing attention to grim realities (and the film’s willingness to confront them) while giving the viewer the illusion of a comfortable distance. That distance gets smaller and smaller throughout until it becomes clear the distance was itself a mirage.

All the actors great. Brando and Saint transfix. They work on a plane elevated from the grime of the waterfront. Co-stars Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger seem natural inhabitants of the waterfront, which makes them different to watch. Brando’s got to do so much in every scene; without him, without his conflict, there’s no movie. He’s got to sell every second.

He does.

Waterfront’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Budd Schulberg, suggested by articles by Malcolm Johnson; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leonard Bernstein; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy), Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle Karl Malden (Father Barry), Lee J. Cobb (Johnny Friendly), Rod Steiger (Charley Malloy), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan), Leif Erickson (Glover), James Westerfield (Big Mac) and John F. Hamilton (‘Pop’ Doyle).


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Gangs of New York (2002, Martin Scorsese)

Gangs of New York is a really big, really bad epic. Director Scorsese pays so much attention to the scale of the film, with sweeping crane shots and intense (and terrible) action sequences, he doesn’t pay much attention to the other elements of the film. Like the acting. And the script.

First, the acting. It’s not terrible. Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s always clean-shaven and always has perfect hair because he’s a matinée idol, not an actor here, isn’t atrocious. He can’t keep an accent but, when he’s delivering the lame dialogue or pretending a romance with Cameron Diaz… well, it’s clear it isn’t his fault.

And Cameron Diaz isn’t terrible. She’s got an idiotic character and nothing to do in the film. She does nothing just fine.

Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic. Until about sixty percent through the picture, he makes it worth seeing. Then he and DiCaprio have their falling out and the script goes even more to pot. It goes entirely into summary and narrative montage, even though Scorsese has stopped with the montages.

The film’s a mess, not just narratively, but visually. Thelma Schoonmaker–one of the great film editors of the last fifty years–is constantly doing these ugly, jagged cuts and even worse fades. Scorsese can’t do this film. From the first few minutes, it’s clear he can’t do a film this size. He doesn’t want to have to acknowledge the artifice and it kills the film.

Day-Lewis’s spellbindingly good. But Gangs is atrocious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, based on a story by Cocks; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Amsterdam Vallon), Daniel Day-Lewis (William Cutting), Cameron Diaz (Jenny Everdeane), Jim Broadbent (William Tweed), John C. Reilly (Jack Mulraney), Henry Thomas (Johnny Sirocco) and Brendan Gleeson (Walter McGinn).


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