London Times critic James Christopher goes off on No Country for Old Men beating out There Will Be Blood for Best Picture.
"Did the American Academy get it right? I don’t think so, and it needs to be discussed. I’m gutted that a picture as immaculately assembled as There Will Be Blood has failed against a cartoon American parable, and a psycho wig played by Javier Bardem."
Christopher describes There Will Be Blood as a Biblical-minded story about the conflict of religion and greed in American society. He calls No Country a parable about the indifference of violence in the American West. He concludes:
"But I simply don’t know what the last half hour of this Oscar-winner means. It’s a bloke’s film in the crudest sense of the word. The desert landscapes are framed like paintings, and the plot hardly breaks sweat. But for the life of me I could not picklock a meaning from the last chaotic, whimsical, in truth, desperately-looking-for-an-ending, reel. It creaks with significance, but I left the cinema not entirely convinced that the glittering plaudits it has won are entirely deserved."
At least that explanation has the value of honesty. It's not often that critics have the courage in public to admit that they do not know what a film means. But perhaps next time Christopher should try thinking about a film even after he has left the cinema. He has apparently done less than enough to inform himself, given the amount of discussion the ending has generated. I've found the very public, very plentiful debates over the ending to be the most exciting element of the movie. The film's site itself has had a section dedicated to expressing different views on the ending. I'm sorry the film didn't tie things up in a bow for you, Mr. Christopher, but some of us find the process of trying to grasp a difficult answer more profitable than tidy explanations and overly determined bowling pin finales.
It should be said that There Will Be Blood was in my Top 10 Films of the Year, so clearly I admire it. But it was closer to 10 than to one, which reflects a certain coolness to the film on my part.
Part of my coolness comes from the feeling that, as once was said of the English author Henry James and his labyrinthine sentences, Anderson doesn't bite off more than he can chew so much as chew more than he has bitten off. The story feels less than the film, and it seems flat at times, straining for the importance to which it believes its ambition entitles it. I'm also uncertain that the film correctly diagnoses the issues with American capitalism. TWBB suggests that American capitalist values naturally attract personalities that are antithetical to traditional American moral/religious values (and have subsequently murdered those values). I prefer the subtler view of Michael Clayton, another film that Christopher dismisses, that American capitalist values prey on the weakness and isolation of American personalities belonging to people who probably know better in their hearts. It's not just that your boss is a jerk. It's that his underlings (and probably the boss himself) are wedded to the flimsy but flexible moral backbone needed to survive.
My other issue is more visceral. There Will Be Blood's advocates are the most vociferous group of film fans in recent years, and I find their pronouncements of their beloved film's singular all-important historical tremendousness grating. It reminds me of the people who watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and acted like they had just ridden home in a golden chariot from Heaven. Not only are those who don't agree idiots. Their favored films are cartoon parables with meaningless endings. It's all rather annoying.