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Pure genius

There Will Be Blood
15, nationwide Juno
12A, nationwide

6 February 2008

12:00 AM

6 February 2008

12:00 AM

There Will Be Blood
15, nationwide

Juno
12A, nationwide

There Will Be Blood (oh, yes) stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a late-19th-century American oilman whose own view could not be plainer: find oil, beat off the competition, buy the land, drill it, get rich. And that’s about it, not that it matters. It’s the genius — a word that should never be used lightly; which is why I hope you can see I just used it heavily — of Day-Lewis’s performance that will keep you with it. Day-Lewis is, surely, every actor’s actor, even though they all probably hate him at some level. ‘If Day-Lewis is making a movie this year, then I am not.’ Apparently, outside the industry Day-Lewis is also a talented cobbler and carpenter so, if I were a movie actor, I would be putting in a lot of orders for shoes and cupboards and I would be putting them in right now.


The film opens in 1892, with Plainview climbing down a ladder into a small silver mine and falling as a rung breaks — there is no sound for the first ten minutes beyond his own harsh, parched exhalations as he tries to heave himself up — and finishes 30 years later, by which time he is a crazed tycoon living in a Californian mansion, wearing a tattered jumper and eating with his still oil-soaked fingers. In the interim he has made no friends and has had no love affairs — there are scarcely any women in this; what is it about American directors and women these days? His only relationships have been with the baby boy he scooped up for a son, and with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a slitheringly sly evangelical preacher with a baby face and a grown-up agenda. The final scene between Plainview and Sunday is as insanely astonishing as it is astonishingly insane, but it does make sense if you think of it like this: if God isn’t money, why is the preacher now begging?

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights; Magnolia; Punch-Drunk Love), this is a film that may be about the deconstruction of the American dream, just as it may be about capitalism’s ability to destroy all that it creates. So, nothing new there, then. Indeed, but it’s OK, because it’s not this aspect that is going to grip you for the 158 minutes. It’s Day-Lewis, who is a genius, a word I am happy to use again now you know I only use it heavily.

Are we meant to like Plainview? Doesn’t matter. Dislike him? Doesn’t matter. Day-Lewis’s performance will simply have you like a fever you can’t shift. The landscapes are hard and big, but he scathes through them as if they were no more than your Uncle Stan’s allotment. He can put merriment and compassion into Plainview’s eyes, when Plainview has to contrive either or both. His voice is strangely caressing while, somehow, giving every indication of an inner fervour that could blow like one of the oil geysers themselves. I wish I could describe this all better, but if I could what, then, would be the point of cinema?

Now, Juno. Juno is just a lovely, lovely film which asks for nothing, has no blood in it (not a speck), and also comes in at just the length we like (91 minutes). It stars the terrific Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff, a tomboyish 16-year-old from Minneapolis who, after her first go at sex, finds herself pregnant. Juno deals with this as she seems to deal with everything else; with a great deal of smart-talking and flip, high-school back-chat. Juno doesn’t do self-pity. She decides to go full-term and give the baby away to a couple, Vanessa and Mark, who can’t have children of their own. Juno is impressed by Vanessa’s need for a baby. ‘If I could just have the thing and give it to you now, I totally would,’ she says. ‘But I’m guessing it looks, probably like a sea monkey right now, and I should let it get a little cuter.’ Juno has a step-mom (Allison Janney) who is marvellous, particularly when she tells an ultrasound technician where to get off.

The film does hit the odd false note. Although it generally holds out against schmaltz there are one or two wobbly moments, and Juno is so cute there are times you really would like to whop her arse. But shall we properly bother about these? No, let’s not. Let’s just sit back and enjoy.

So, with lots to like in Juno, and lots to admire in There Will Be Blood, it’s been a good week for cinema, just as it’s probably been a good week for Day-Lewis’s order book. As it happens, I know for a fact that Johnny Depp is down for 4,556 pairs of shoes, while George Clooney wants 12 fitted wardrobes, 76 tables and a staircase that goes to the moon.


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