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I could have sworn I reviewed this movie. I guess not.
If you don’t remember what this film is about, let me refresh your memory: Morally Ambiguous Oilman vs. Morally Ambiguous Prophet (The Fight of the Fucking Century only on PPV [after Girls Gone Wild: First Timers])
It might even be better that I haven’t written about this film because, unlike some of my reviews (Blood Simple, Magnolia, Platoon, Boondock Saints), I’m writing after multiple viewings. Therefore, it’s bound to be less reactionary and more reflective or analytical.
I first saw this film when it was in the limited stage of its platform release. I was packed into a theater in Pasadena because I really wanted to see Paul Dano tear the motherfucking roof off. I really liked him in Little Miss Sunshine and the scenes we see of him in the trailers are awesome in its most absolute sense.
If you remember the show Carnivale that used to be on HBO, he reminds me a bit of Brother Justin who was a preacher that turned out to be very evil inside. And that’s what I see in Dano’s character Eli Sunday. A lot of facade and a whole lot more of evil and greed.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted to see this film because of Paul Dano and not Daniel Day-Lewis. Hell, I’ve never even seen Gangs of New York (Scorsese is tough for me).
What I got from Paul Thomas Anderson’s directing and writing was a film built more upon facial expressions and subtlety than upon dialog. A film that it takes multiple viewings to finally understand some things. It’s like a bizarro David Lynch film like Lost Highway or Mulholland Dr. (Inland Empire has no meaning. It’s three hours of existential crises that make Samuel Beckett jealous) except instead of the twists being within the plot, they’re within the face. There are many things that could’ve been said but, instead, Anderson chose for them to be expressed.
Which is the pacing complaint arises. When there’s no dialog and just two people looking at each other on screen, most people are bound to get bored–especially upon first take. But these “boring” moments are where the film excels. The cold stares of Day-Lewis and the conniving or sniveling, desperate, looks of Dano speak louder than any word could have. Anderson acknowledges the adagecliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and, in a movie where things are composed of 24 pictures per second, why fucking bother with words sometimes? You can’t cram 24,000 words into a second of film–but you can at the same time if you take to the adage as Anderson has.
This film excels at speaking depths while silently rolling towards its anti-climax. It is a character study taken to its highest level. It nearly throws plot by the wayside in favor of showing, slowly or quickly, just what Day-Lewis is doing at each and every second. The movie’s pace slows enough for us to take in every single piece of the character. It’s so beautiful, and it’s only upon multiple viewings do you realize such a thing.
Another aspect of this film that really excels is the scoring by Jonny Greenwood. He swirls and moves his pieces like a horror film so as to accent the tension in each scene he’s needed. (Fun Fact, by the way: The movie is 158 minutes while the score is only about 50 minutes) Some of his pieces sound like an orchestra simply tuning up before the big show–and it works because that’s exactly what this movie has. A lot of tuning before a small piece.
And you haven’t listened to his piece “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” you really should (I found a link where you can stream it in Real Audio, which is kind of a shitty format, but it’s a good piece of music that deserves a listen). And listen to Radiohead, he’s pretty good at guitar too.