Saturday, January 5, 2008

Critics on Crack

I admit to reading reviews to gauge whether or not I want to see a particular movie. Life is too short to be wasted on drivel like Norbit or Evan Almightly--or even the merely mediocre. Unfortunately the critics aren't always right about what's bad (witness their collective excoriation of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End...) and sometimes they're not right about what's good.

Reading Ann Hornaday's review of There Will Be Blood in the Washington Post, I was interested by her comments:

"The relationship between Plainview and his son, characterized by devotion as much as by utilitarian practicality and, finally, betrayal, is just one of the fraught dynamics that propel the film. The story also pivots on Plainview's encounter with a young Pentecostal preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, in a stunning turnaround from his role as a sullen teen in 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine"), whose theatrical pietism may be the only force greater in its ambition than Plainview's adamantly secular avarice. Watching these two master manipulators as they one-up each other is just one of the pleasures of "There Will Be Blood," which despite its vivid period setting bursts with contemporary political relevance (it's not for nothing that Anderson has named Plainview's son H.W.)."
Wow. I wished I'd seen THAT movie! Unfortunately, Ms. Hornaday is imposing her own interpretation of what was actually playing on the screen. I like her interpretation. It would have given depth and intrigue to the film. Made it a haunting and compelling story rather than a fragmented and confusing one. But that's not how the story went. The story was about the brute force of Daniel Day-Lewis steamrolling right over anyone or anything in his path. Not much conflict there.

While There Will Be Blood was an admirable attempt, I'm at a loss as to why critics are hailing it as a brilliant masterpiece. I'm not stupid--I don't need all the dots connected for me. In fact, I hate it when filmmakers assume I don't have the brains to figure things out for myself. I like stories painted in broad strokes, small moments, hints and subtext. But it seemed to me scenes were missing, motivations unknown and story sacrificed in lieu of reproducing the sienna daguerreotype of the 1900s.

There Will Be Blood is not the only movie I've seen that suffers from critical hyperbole. Juno was a good film, but not all THAT. Atonement was achingly gorgeous, but not the epic masterwork reviewers heralded. There was all this hullabaloo about this long tracking shot in the movie. When I saw it I thought, why are they walking around in circles? It made me dizzy.

So what's up? It's like the critics are too afraid they'll be kicked out of the "cool club" and so they collectively participate in the oohing and aahing of the Emperor's New Clothes. A critic hails a movie a masterpiece so they ALL have to. There Will Be Blood tries too hard to be weighty, Juno tries too hard to be witty, Atonement tries to hard to be arty. All succeed on some levels, but none are the god's gift to movie audiences that the critics are making them out to be.


  1. Argh!! I really wanted to see "Blood" and I still will since my bfriend is dying to see it. But I totally agree with you on the other movies. After the first 15 overly clever minutes of Juno, I liked it but please, it didn't reinvent the wheel. An I'm still wondering how in the hell critics are so thrilled with Atonement. It's beautiful but it is a movie I will have forgotten by February. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels the same way.

  2. Hollie,

    Given your love of good dialogue I think you might find TWBB a bit tedious. I'll be interested to hear what you think.