Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The Art of Violence
Daniel Day-Lewis portrays the cold and evil Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, a story about a rising oil tycoon, which is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!
This movie is made fascinating by the acting and its unusual characters. Not only is Daniel Plainview an over-the-top greedy and pathologically competitive man, but the small town he's looking to exploit is headed by a charismatic preacher who has his own agenda and peccadillos. Aptly named Eli Sunday, this young preacher is likewise driven by a sort of ambition and tunnel vision. The young actor Paul Dano portrays Sunday, and it must have been intimidating, maybe downright frightening, to work so closely with such a renowned actor, but he acquitted himself very well.
Sunday and Plainview certainly have their share of physical fights, the literal expression of a struggle between greed and ambition and small town tradition and religion. In the end, of course, oil changes everything.
This movie kept my attention the whole time. Daniel Plainview is an amazingly bad human being, and the few clues we are given about his background inspire the imagination. I found the ending rather surprising. It could be said that the symbolism in the last scene will hit one over the head.
No Country for Old Men is a page-turner, a fast read. It's very cynical, though, and I worry a little about Cormac McCarthy.
The tale is set in motion when Lewellyn Moss, who has until recently led a quiet life with his young wife, comes upon a grisly scene while hunting in his native Texan desert. Shot up vehicles, lots of blood everywhere--and millions of dollars in cash. It's a drug deal gone awry. I would have hightailed it out of there and called the cops, but Lewellyn, a Vietnam vet, carefully surveys the area, takes note of the single man still alive and begging for water, then takes the cash. When he gets home, he hides the money and returns to the scene in order the take the lone survivor some water. When Lewellyn returns, however, this man has already been shot, and it becomes clear that Lewellyn's life is now in danger, too. He manages to get out of there and back home briefly, but he has made a huge and permanent mistake.
The villain is Anton Chigurh, a sociopath who nonetheless has his own strict code of behavior and his own way of killing people. Lots of people. Chigurh is nightmare, personified. It is impossible to negotiate with him.
It is interesting that the climatic killings at the end are not told in the same straight forward style as the rest. Instead, the reader is told, through conversations, that they have occurred. McCarthy has written this novel sparingly, which is why is goes so fast. The conversations speak volumes about the individual characters, and in the end, I truly mourned their fates.
Veteran Sheriff Bell finds himself at a loss to understand this level of evil crime, and his memories of serving in this small town provide a stark contrast between then and now. In the end, he resigns, feeling totally defeated.
It's a sad book which does not romanticize Lewellyn Moss's bad decision one bit. It's also a very good book, but not if you're already feeling depressed.
I will see the movie with some trepidation.