The ago old Jedi saying is, "Always two there are: A master and an apprentice." If that's the case, it fits the relationship Robert Altman had with director Paul Thomas Anderson perfectly. Anderson cherished being Altman's apprentice, serving as a standby director for Altman's A Prairie Home Companion for insurance purposes, as the elder director was 80 years old at the time. In the last conversation they had, Altman would tell him, "I think this film is something different for you."
He was talking about Anderson's latest movie, There Will Be Blood. Though Altman never got to see the finished product (he passed away in late 2006), his gut feeling proved to be true. There Will Be Blood was nominated for eight Academy Awards and critics agree that this is Anderson's finest work yet. But that's not what Robert Altman meant when he said different.
The movie is set against the turn-of-the-century oil craze in the United States (an American craze that continues to exist but has moved into the Middle East), and shows how the discovery of oil shapes the life of silver prospector Daniel Plainview, portrayed brilliantly Daniel Day-Lewis, who recently won his second Oscar for this role. We follow his life, from the discovery of oil, how it transforms him and how it ultimately ignites a passion that not only doesn't die, but instead shines brighter as the story ends.
Anderson belongs to a generation of VCR filmmakers. These directors learned the craft not in classrooms or through the lens, but through hours of watching movies on videocassettes. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, along with Anderson are a few directors that belong to this school. Most of their movies are ensemble pieces, have intricate storylines and multiple main characters. Their stories are downright gritty, poignant and funny. But most of all, as a whole, their stories have a real quality about them. Though sometimes the plot or setup may be outrageous, an irony of kismet or grand design at work in their stories. And while most of these directors have now an established list of films on their shelves, There Will Be Blood is only Anderson's fifth motion picture. This doesn't mean that he's not been given any chances or is considered risky; Anderson can be credited for reviving the career of Burt Reynolds and transforming Julianne Moore, Mark Wahlberg and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as A list stars.
The young filmmaker originally set out to write the story of two quarreling families, but was unhappy and lost with the script. It was during this time in London, that he was withdrawn from the script and homesick. Shopping for books, he was drawn to one which showed a Californian oilfield. That book was Oil!, a novel by Upton Sinclair. Though the novel primarily dealt with politics of that day and the political views of Upton himself, Anderson saw the relationships of the characters with each other as the primary crux of the story. Setting the book as an influence, Anderson quickly adapted the theme and the setting and used them to flush out his own story and characters. But there's also something else that was important that made Anderson select that book and that story, and that's perception. "I wonder what people's perception of California is sometimes," he tells LA Weekly. "Do people perceive it as this land of recreation? That's such a misconception, I think. That area, that San Joaquin Valley — on one side of the freeway are all those crops and on the other side are these oil fields. It's amazing — just the leap of a freeway and its two completely different things. And to think, there's oil on one side of it and there isn't on the other."
Daniel Day-Lewis is by far the most talented actor of his time. He's also a very peculiar actor, in the sense that we'll never see him as a villain in the next Spider-Man or Die-Hard movies but we will see him portray characters like Daniel Plainview from this movie. Plainview is the volatile fuel that drives the story, his ambitions and unpredictable behavior draws the rest of the characters in and fits them around himself, like jigsaw pieces.
Paul Dano is part of the supporting cast, portraying not one, but two roles. He plays twin brothers, Paul and Eli Sunday, who cross paths with Plainview. Dano, previously seen in Little Miss Sunshine, plays more of Eli than of Paul. Eli Sunday is first and foremost a fanatic. As the leader of a new church, Eli Sunday thinks he's a man of vision rather than a man of ambition which is what he thinks Plainview to be. Dillon Freasier portrays H.W., the deaf, adoptive, son of Plainview. Though a first time actor, the young Freasier is at complete calm and ease next to his more experienced co-actor, Day-Lewis. Though there are other characters throughout the movie, the only two that really matter are Plainview and Sunday. Even the film's tagline, "There will be greed. There will be vengeance," speaks about Plainview's maniacal greed and Sunday's fanatical vengeance.
So what is it that makes this movie different, as Robert Altman said it would be for Anderson? Well, this is a grand story whose every moment is volatile and far different from the sublime and weirdness of Magnolia. The story more or less revolves around one character, Plainview, unlike Boogie Nights, which was an ensemble piece. And although this movie clocks in more than two and a half hours long, the pacing is much faster than that of his previous movies.
Ultimately, it is different because both Boogie Nights, Magnolia and all of other Anderson's previous work was influenced by his master. Altman knew that There Will Be Blood was Anderson's first and foremost step into becoming a master for himself.
And of course only time will tell when Anderson will complete the journey that will make him into the master Altman was.
VCR FILMMAKERS(This review was published on the 9th March edition of DAWN Images)
Throughout the mid and late-90s, these writer-directors found their niche by studying movies on VCRs. Hence, the eponymous name of the group which comprises of some of the most profound directors of our time, some of which include:
Quentin Tarantino: Though he started out as a writer (Natural Born Killers, True Romance), Tarantino ultimately broke into the ranks of the director elite with Pulp Fiction in 1995.
Kevin Smith: Having sold his entire comic book collection, this director from Jersey set out to write, direct and star in Clerks. An off the wall look at life in a convenience store filled with colourful character commentary on everything from life to Star Wars.
Robert Rodriguez: Starting at the early age of eight, young Robert was fascinated by the addition of the VCR in his home. Needless to say, Robert started being a film-maker at a very young age. So much was his enthusiasm that he has excelled in all parts of movie-making, earning him the nickname of “the one-man film crew.”