I have loved Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies for years. I admire the cinematic artistry and the gorgeous thematic arcs and the finely drawn characters, but what I love most is the profoundly empathetic quality of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. Anderson has a remarkable ability to take characters we might otherwise dismiss with a sneer—a dim-witted porn star, a drug-addled but repentant gold digger, a painfully shy man with anger management issues—and create clear-eyed but exquisitely human portraits, quietly insisting that we see shades of ourselves in them. There is nothing cynical or cruel about the stories Anderson tells. The honesty, patience, and tenderness of his films move me each time I see them.
So I don’t know quite what to do with There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s latest. It has all those great aesthetic and artistic qualities: long dramatic tracking shots, brilliant lighting, striking use of music. The arc of the movie, with Daniel Day-Lewis’s intense performance in the central role, is beautifully wrought, not a simple rise-and-fall storyline but something more interesting and muddy. But There Will Be Blood is also much colder than I expect from Anderson, and that saddens me. Without the warmth of his previous films, Blood left me impressed and intrigued but unmoved.