A stark desert landscape comes into focus. A solitary man toils in a mine trying to find a way to make his fortune. This is our first look at Daniel Plainview in There will be Blood and it is a telling scene that sets the tone for this man's life and his personality which this poignant and powerful movie will focus on.
There will be Blood at its heart is the story of Daniel Plainview (played by the amazing Daniel Day-Lewis) and his quest to be a respected oil man. Over the course of the film we see Plainview find his first claim and begin the extraction of the oil using crude means. As his tale progresses we see not only his interests growing, but the means with which he drills and extracts becoming more modern and efficient. He eventually finds his way to a truly promising claim in an area called Little Boston, here he tries to truly make his mark in the oil world and experiences his most life-defining moments.
While manipulating this claim Plainview buys up a great deal of the area and eventually enters a battle of wills against Eli Sunday (played by Paul Dano), a charismatic young minister with questionable motives. Plainview and Eli have a number of encounters throughout the film where they are both antagonistic yet necessary to each other. The byplay between the two is electric and at times disturbing, not in an overly aggressive or graphic way, but in the blatant way they use each other to further their own needs. The tension builds up between the two in a dynamic way that leads to an inevitable conclusion that is one of the most disturbing scenes in the movie.
Central to the film as well is the young boy H.W. (Dillon Freasier) who Plainview raises as his own after the accidental death of one of his partners. The relationship between the two is central and distant to the story, which is a perfect analogy of Plainview's feelings for the boy. You know he needs him as a human connection, in a fashion, but doesn't really have what it takes in himself to be a real father to the boy. This is further reinforced when H.W. becomes too much for Plainview to handle and we see how he reacts and how he struggles with his choices where H.W. is concerned.
This leads into the true depth of the movie. Yes, it is about oil, yes it is about conflict, but the real heart of the story is our look at this man, Daniel Plainview. Daniel Day-Lewis brings this character to us and under the superb direction of Paul Thomas Anderson brings his ugliness to the front and exposes it raw to the viewers. Plainview is a man who hates people by his own admission; he has built his hates up all his life until he can feel them boiling over. He is also a man who knows he needs people, land, and leases, so he pretends to have social skills, he pretends to be a normal man in society, but all he can feel is the hate and he is driven to claim all he can as his own. This is a movie about someone losing his grip on his humanity and social mores as he succumbs to his ego and single-minded nature.
As most of the movie has us following Daniel Plainview and exploring his personality and motives we are lucky that someone like Daniel Day-Lewis was cast in the lead role. He recently won an Academy Award for this performance and watching him become this man, you know why. This is one of the best performances I have seen in a long while and you can truly see that he became Daniel Plainview and brings us along to experience who this man is. From glances that carry the weight of retribution, to angry tirades to soft-spoken sales pitches, we see this man as he is and are both repulsed and interested in experiencing his story. This is a true sign of an exceptional actor, to pull us into this world and truly see him as the character and not an actor playing one.
Paul Thomas Anderson and his talented teams further draw us into Plainview's world by pulling together evocative imagery, a haunting score that focuses on sustained moments of intense sound, and the character-driven acting we have the pleasure of watching. There Will be Blood is a brilliant film that is an artistic triumph, both from a cinematic and emotional standpoint. It is gratifying to see a movie like this in an age where more and more flash is favored over substance.
There Will Be Blood 2-Disc Collector's Edition is a conflicting package to review. The movie, as noted above, is stellar and should not be missed; the packaging itself is wonderful though not very user friendly. It is housed in a stylish three-fold digipak case featuring a panoramic scene from the movie and an excerpt from Upton Sinclair's Oil! in lieu of an insert. Unfortunately, the discs are tucked in paperboard "slots" instead of traditional plastic trays; this not only makes it difficult to remove the discs, they can also be easily scuffed. Once you finally remove the discs and insert them into your player the menus are very basic but easy to use.
This is the Collector's Edition which features a second disc and this is where my only major complaint lies with this version. Featured on this disc are the following supplementals:
- 15 Minutes – Research, Etc. (15:38)
- Trailers (1:26) & (2:14)
- Fishing Sequence (6:15)
- Haircut / Interrupted Hymn (3:16)
- Dailies Gone Wild (2:49)
- The Story of Petroleum (25:32)
"15 minutes" is a montage of vintage photos, video clips, and behind-the-scenes footage detailing the research that went into making There Will be Blood, which is a nice look at how detailed they were with the materials and costume choices. "The Trailers" comprise the teaser and theatrical trailer that preceded the film's run. "Fishing" and "Haircut/Interrupted Hymn" are deleted scenes that do not offer much to the final film and are better off separate like this. "Dailies Gone Wild" is a short "camera still rolling" scene that shows Daniel Day-Lewis trying to complete a scene in character.
Finally the one really appreciated extra is the short 1920s film "The Story of Petroleum", enhanced with a score from the film's composer, Jonny Greenwood. It is a film by the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the Sinclair Oil Company which looks at the rapidly expanding American oil industry. It is a sobering look back at the face of the oil industry and how, while some things have changed, others have stayed constant.
For a product called a Collector's Edition this fairly limited amount of extras is quite disappointing. It is well known that Paul Thomas Anderson has no interest in providing commentaries any longer and Daniel Day-Lewis is of the same mind, so the potential for extras is diminished. The lack of any other studio-funded supplements makes me wonder why there is a two-disc version at all; it almost takes away from the high quality of the film itself.
The benefit to there being no supplemental material on the main disc means we have space for a fantastic transfer of There Will be Blood. The image quality is noticeably sharp and upsamples very well if you have a player capable of this feature. Whether it is an interior shot or a sweeping look at a stark desert site, the imagery is very clear and minor details are discernible. Transitions from night to day are smooth with little color bleed and the black levels are as deep and dark as you can imagine. It is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16×9 displays and is a great transfer of a well shot film.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround in English, French and Spanish with subtle yet effective audio ranges, There Will be Blood sounds very good. As the movie is largely focused on dialogue, most of the mixing is centered around the front channels, but during volatile actions such as gushers or fires the surround effect is detailed and well done. The Jonny Greenwood score, as stated, is subtle and never overplayed, with long haunting notes playing over key emotional scenes. The audio is well enabled and, as any good mix does, furthers the tone of the film.
The Final Word
There Will be Blood is an poignant film from a cinematic and artistic perspective and is highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a compelling tale and strong characters. The overall 2-Disc Collector's package, however, does stumble in its minimal extras on the supplemental disc.