Roger Ebert is so overcome by the film he loses his ability to use contractions: "Watching the movie is like viewing a natural disaster you cannot turn away from. By that I do not mean the movie is bad, any more than it is good. It is a force beyond categories."
In short, this movie is so staggering it is not even a movie anymore. It is an Act of God, beyond our mortal ken. No wonder the director has three names, nobody with only two would dare take on such daunting co-authorship: There Will Be Blood, by God (additional dialogue by Paul Thomas Anderson).
So this is a new Gospel for hordes of worshipful gits. There’s no use pointing out to them the grotesquely stupid parts, because they’ll just say you can’t handle its "rule-busting experimentation" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone), or that it all actually works as "an absurdist, blackly comic horror film" (Glenn Kenny, Premiere Magazine). And I might have been okay with all of this, tolerant of the cine-religions of others, no matter how nutty, had there not been certain blasphemous charges made against my own faith. I actually read comparisons of this overflowing slop bucket of a film to…I can hardly type this…Raging Bull and No Country for Old Men.
Of course, you know this means war.
If you want to make grandiose comparisons, stick to the one claiming Paul Thomas Anderson has forced on us his own "bloody and brilliant Citizen Kane" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). You can get some logical traction with that claim. Citizen Kane is also a big hammy melodrama about an American tycoon, directed by a young egocentric fathead and accorded way too much reverence by everybody. Of course, Citizen Kane is a much better big, hammy melodrama because Orson Welles was a much better showman and mass-com technology whiz than PTA, and was great at coming up with inventive ways of expanding the use of media (radio, theater, film), getting new effects designed to make a crowd go OOOH!!
But Paul Thomas Anderson's big hammy flourishes aren't even any fun, they’re just irksome. Take the now-notorious "I drink your milkshake" scene. Though it might’ve been intended to thrill us with pity and terror, it had a much better chance at being hilarious: Daniel Day-Lewis prancing up howling that line, then illustrating how to drink a milkshake by going "SCHLLLLLLPPPP!!" then chasing Paul Dano around with a bowling pin. But it isn’t hilarious, either. For one thing, the scene up to that point has gone on for what seems like an hour, and it’s one of those Basil Exposition scenes with a character we haven’t seen in a while catching us up with everything he’s been doing for years and years and years, and there are all sorts of meaningful pauses and offerings of drinks and dull psychological wrangling. By the time we get to the milkshake punch line, which nobody understands or cares about anyway, it’s like hearing one of those really long jokes badly told. Everybody in the audience just sits there sadly, taking it. It’s like being part of a psychological experiment to see how much annoyance audiences will bear and still not walk out. You can picture the psychologists standing at the back of the theater, with clipboards, exchanging amazed glances as one lame effect after another is passively absorbed.
If the critics are right, this film is a groundbreaking achievement destined to have a huge impact on American cinema for generations to come. I’ve registered my objections, but I’m afraid there will be milkshakes in our future.