There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood in Toronto

Last night, Toronto played host to one of the ultra-exclusive sneak preview prints of Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, There Will Be Blood. Tickets for this screening came and went in the blink of an eye, though the Varsity did their level best to widen the field by moving the screening to their largest theatre at some point yesterday (it was originally scheduled to run in cinema 4).

The film received thrilled cheers as it started, and an entirely different sort of applause when it ended - a feat in and of itself, given the unrepentently nasty nature of the content.

There Will Be Blood is sitting pretty atop a number of critical top ten lists right now, and the praise is not undeserved; in the five years since Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson has gone off and made a film so unabashedly vigorous in its wholesale excision of the American soul that, had it been made sixty years ago, it might well have overcome Citizen Kane as the film that everybody thinks is the best film ever made.

Loosely based on Upton Sinclair's Oil!, the story concerns Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a prospecting oil man so repellent he makes Day-Lewis's infamous Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York look like Mr. Hooper from Sesame Street. To call Plainview's arc a moral disintegration would be to suggest that he had morals to begin with; from the moment the character drags himself out of a prospect shaft with a broken leg and spits venom at the big blue sky, he's as loathsome as anyone we'll ever meet in film, and he goes downward from there.

This makes for a film that isn't a great deal of fun, but Anderson's dyed-in-the-wool fetishism for movie-making brings a lot of joy nonetheless. (Think Kubrick meets Malick circa 1977, and you're in the ballpark.) Haunted by a nightmarish Jonny Greenwood score and populated by a broad swath of unrecognizable character actors, the infernal world of There Will Be Blood lingers in the soul long after the film's startling, hell-and-damnation climax has unspooled.

After a year that has seen genuine moral complexity and darkness creep back into the world of American cinema (No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, Gone Baby Gone, 3:10 to Yuma), There Will Be Blood comes along at year's-end like a rotten cherry on top. Definitely one of the year's best.

There Will Be Blood opens in regular Toronto theatres on January 11.

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