The Kubrickesque meditation of the first fifteen odd minutes of the movie is a prelude to the opera that follows - There will be Blood. It’s hard to regard it as a movie; it’s a performance of just one man, Daniel day Lewis. For, he reduces other actors around in the world to almost CGIs.
The only two other things that stand a chance to make any impression in the movie are: Oil, which defines the backdrop- Daniel’s drive and a stand in for typical love interest. And, two: The music which forms the background, stepping in as a substitute for Daniel’s emotions.
The rest of the cast are reduced to numbers, in presence and dynamics.
You can already see how it is distinctly different from any other Hollywood product in recent memory. The movie doesn’t have a story or even an intent to narrate one. It is just a reflection of the being of one man - and as it goes in most of such cases - an upcoming American venture capitalist, ruthless and willing to let his drive consume him and turn him into an enigma. But unlike Hearst, Hughes etc. Daniel isn’t bound to anything or anyone - he comes into the movie fully-formed, without a past( No q-u-a-r-a-n-t-i-n-e) without a destiny to claim as success(rosebud). He knows of no love or belonging. We watch him totally dominate a movie for three hours and still we walk out not being able to tell if we really know him. But yet when we see him talk and walk during those scenes, we feel as if we know him - the cunning in his response and the uncompromising crookedness in his being. But then there are sudden surprises of poignancy and tenderness, which we get taken over by, even when we know it is a put-over; like, Daniel smiling at his baby boy on a train, or when he so convincingly claims to be a father, a family man. Though you suspect him, you cant help but be charmed. And soon when, in one of brilliant scenes in the movie- he leaves his hurt, pleading and impaired son to rush back to the Oil-well, for some reason, you arent as surprised as you naturally would be.
That is the beauty of the movie; without any doubt it has in it one of the most enigmatic charecters ever to come out of Hollywood.
For Anderson ( not the promising one from Darjeeling Limited), I am not sure if the movie is a really conscious effort. But if it is, he has done a superb job; Watching the movie I shuddered at those decisions : when and where to take the camera off Daniel’s dickensy face. More importantly, all the credit should go to him for not spoiling it with banalities; one love interest would have royally damaged the movie and pulled it on par C grade flick. I haven’t read the book nor know anyone who has, but I felt the brother(?in law), a mcguffin to side narrate Daniel’s psyche could have been handled better.
Other members of the cast are almost reduced to extras, except at times Paul Dano, who though refreshing is unfortunately asked to act opposite a behemoth out-of-the-world performance in a very unsupportive narration to his role. He is promising though, reminds me of Ed Norton in early days.
The only other thing in the movie that truly justifies the enigma of Daniel is the absolute wonder of Greenwood background score. Its not just the choices of the scores ( Brahms to build it up- remember Scorsese using Bach’s Toccata and Fugue for Hughes in The Aviator) but also the use of music to reflect Daniel’s mind. For instance, in the Oil-Gush scene the music alternates between muffled heaviness and the bustle of the gush depicting the failing hearing of HW (Daniel’s son) and the chaos of the incident following hitting the oil bed respectively - two possible conflicts within Daniel, a man, to whose emotions we hardly have any access on screen.( dont know about book)
It is easy to see how it is not a typical American movie; it isn't about tapping oil or making profit out of it or about religion versus money; it is about your nihilistic devotion to your narcissism, all the while well aware of its pathos. And, like all such things in nature, stronger beats the slower and the powerful destroys the meek. You see, there has to be blood always.
I can easily see why people might not get it or even hate it. Yes, Its different. To an extent that it might take a while to register its value; in the process I fear it might lose out the Oscar to another wonderful effort by the Coens. I think No Country conforms more to the American definition of a movie.
As for acting and Oscars go this year, well, firstly I have seen better of Javier Bardam than in No Country ( eg Mar Adentro ). I think it is easier to play a powerful author backed role like Antoine. On the other hand, Daniel's charecter could have been easily spoiled by a lesser actor. Plus, Daniel has two veins which pop up on his forehead when he is at his best: well, one won an Oscar long back and the other I reckon should get one soon.