Paul Thomas Anderson’s films usually evoke simple emotions: people either love them or hate them. This polarizing style belongs to Anderson’s amazing skill of crafting complex films. Much could be, and has been, written about Anderson’s previous four films: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love. Each film featured indelible images, distinct soundtracks, and great performances. An underlining thread in each film is the impact and idea of family. It should be no surprise then that this is so with his latest film, There Will Be Blood, which is probably the director’s most-polarizing work.
Everything else about the film, though, is a complete departure from his previous works. There Will Be Blood is a tense, acerbic epic that has lingered in my subconscious for over a week now. Seeing the film for the first time left me with a familiar sense of awe that’s inherent in the works of another brilliant film-auteur, Stanley Kubrick. There Will Be Blood spans the first three decades of the 20th century, focusing on an oilman’s greed and misanthropy, and his son.
The film’s story begins to gather steam when Daniel Plainview and his young son, H.W., are given a tip about a town named Little Boston, where oil literally seeps to the top of the earth. Plainview’s ambition and greed are piqued by the information, sending all of his instruments to the area to capture the oil. Once they reach the town, they are confronted by a charismatic, slippery young preacher, Eli Sunday.
It becomes apparent that Plainview is one to say and do whatever it takes to get what he wants. He works maniacally to reap the fruits of his labor, letting no distractions come in his way between himself and his quest for wealth. His response to the surprises and plot twists of the film’s second act expose the truth of his character, and forces the audience to confront the reality of this man.
Things reach a boiling point in the film’s last act when Plainview can no longer sustain the falsity that carries him through public. The film’s last two scenes are two of the most heartbreaking and harrowing moments in film that I’ve seen in quite some time.
If you think I’m being obscure and vague on the actual plot of the film, then you are absolutely correct. There Will Be Blood is not the type of film you want to be acquainted with before watching. Part of the brilliance, and unsettling nature of the film, is being unaware of what’s coming next. The film moves with a deliberate, exact pace that’s quite reminiscent of 2007’s other instant classic, No Country For Old Men. The difference with There Will Be Blood is the scope of the film and the boundaries that are continually pushed.
The film touches on numerous subjects including greed, family, religion, ambition, modern technology and consumerism, and obsession. Its main character is not the type of person you’d want to encounter or do business with, yet the character is so compelling and riveting that you can’t turn away from the trainwrecks he precipitates.
Early buzz about the movie set the bar unnaturally high for Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as the oilman, Daniel Plainview. In a rare occasion, all the expectations are trumped. For the nearly two hours and forty-minutes the actor’s on the screen, he never takes a breath as anyone but Plainview. The highest compliment that can be extolled upon the actor is that he makes a character like Plainview so viewable and memorable. His performance ranks among the greats in many aspects.
Day-Lewis easily matches Robert De Niro’s bruising performance in Raging Bull, as a man whose personal demons threaten to destroy him. The performance is even comparable to Jack Nicholson’s performance in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in detailing a man that walks a fine line between coherence and insanity. There’s not enough that can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis’ work in this film.
The other elements of the film are also top-notch in every aspect. Each actor gives an exceptional performance, especially Paul Dano and Dillon Freasier. Dano believably goes toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis as Eli Sunday in the film’s most squirm-inducing moments, including the incredible finale (which also includes an instant classic of a quote). It’s a shame that Dano didn’t get an Oscar nod for Supporting-Actor.
Freasier plays Plainview’s son with an incredibly stoic presence. I’ve never been one that particularly cared for child actors, but this kid has tremendous talent. It’s a shame I can’t talk more about his performance and meaning to the film, for he’s a key aspect to Plainview’s character and the film’s plot development.
One of the other standout features of the film is the score. If Dano’s overlook from the Academy can be considered a shame, it’s an absolute travesty that the Academy ruled Jonny Greenwood’s score ineligible for Oscar-contention. Greenwood (who is the main hand behind the genius that is Radiohead) creates musical pieces for the film that range from sublime, moving compositions to nerve-shattering, pulsating string-arrangements. The film also employs works by Brahms and Arvo Part that complements the atmosphere perfectly.
Still, the greatest praise for There Will Be Blood belongs to the writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson. With his fifth picture, Anderson has become one of the most important American directors that still makes films. There were many moments when I had to remind myself it was directed by Anderson, and not somebody like John Huston or Stanley Kubrick. The film actually seems like the type of western that Kubrick would have made. In my opinion, that’s the greatest compliment a director can receive for his work.
Whether you love it or hate it, There Will Be Blood is a film you won’t easily forget.