There Will Be Blood (2007)
Release Date: December 26th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciaran Hinds, Paul F. Tompkins, David Willis, Kevin J. O’Connor, Colleen Foy
eaturing an absolutely phenomenal performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” brings to life as charismatic and captivating a character as any to grace the screen this year. Comparable to the long, dark journeys of Charles Foster Kane, McTeague, or Fred C. Dobbs, the mesmerizing progression of Daniel Plainview from prospector to oil entrepreneur and “family man” makes a compelling character study rich with the flaws of greed, hubris, and competition. Traversing several decades of Plainview’s struggles with family, the church, and the business he so loves (not unlike the sweeping, generational investigations from “Giant” or “The Magnificent Ambersons”), “There Will Be Blood” meticulously recreates a time, a place, and a potent man, with feverishly brilliant detail.
In 1898, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a determined prospector who strikes silver in Texas and, in subsequent searches, finally discovers oil. By 1911, Plainview is a self-proclaimed “oil man,” operating several wells with his adopted son HW (Dillon Freasier). When he’s approached by Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who swears there is oil literally seeping out of the ground on his father’s ranch, Daniel expands his business to begin buying up all of the property in the area. Such aggression doesn’t go unnoticed, however, causing the ambitious businessman to soon find himself at odds with larger oil companies and the fanatical local church, led by the guileful Eli (also Dano), Paul’s twin.
The music by composer Jonny Greenwood is sensational, perfectly complementing every scene. At times the violins screech as if from a frenetic horror film, amplifying the atrocities of Plainview as he battles his inner demons, or presiding over introductions to marked location shifts, while at others it is melodic and impassioned, contrasting the contemplation or enactment of despicable choices. Music plays during most of the film, tying together speechless segments and narrating the tone of conversations. Beautifully orchestrated, it is ever-present and manifest – as if its own character in the background – but never interrupts the visuals onscreen.
Religion also plays a strikingly offbeat part in the film, primarily in the form of Eli Sunday, diametrically opposing Plainview’s own stance on faith. A truly fanatical leader and a declared “false” prophet, Eli attempts to further himself and his church through interfering with Daniel’s oil prospects. Although Plainview is also unscrupulous and irrational, Eli’s unbalanced preacher turn is so immoderate that it clearly displays religion as discordantly nonsensical. His performance is obsessively masterly, to match the dominance of his persona, culminating in a comeuppance at the conclusion that packs a bigger punch than this year’s “Michael Clayton,” which boasted its own undeniably crowd-pleasing finale.
But here, Day-Lewis is unbeatable in his embodiment of Plainview, imparting such passion, authenticity, and an overwhelming screen presence that an Academy Award certainly won’t elude him. His dismal declension from a two-faced, shrewd businessman to an emotionally unstable, soulless killer – a character arc of decline often found in epic tragedies – is easily the best of the year. “I have a competition in me,” Daniel seethes. “I want no one else to succeed.” Although comparison to “Citizen Kane” is obvious, what with the motifs of capitalism, extreme wealth, avarice, perseverance, exploitation, paranoia, hatred, and the loss of humanity (or a connection to it), “There Will Be Blood” covers ground that Orson Welles’ masterpiece approached dissimilarly – particularly with Daniel’s love of his son and the times they spent together, replacing Kane’s cherishing of his fleetingly pleasurable childhood. In the end, like so many great figures of powerful human dramas, Plainview finishes with so much and yet so little.
– The Massie Twins