Since hitting it big with 1997's critically-lauded "Boogie Nights," Paul Thomas Anderson has stood in the front ranks of American filmmakers. Actually, Anderson has crouched in the front ranks, dreaming about what would make a great shot and how he could do this scene or that scene, while all the other filmmakers stand around and chat. For his fifth film, "There Will Be Blood," Anderson has set aside his trademark Altman-esque lushness for a style which recalls Francis Ford Coppola in his prime. Finally, Anderson stands in the front ranks - and it comes as no surprise that he has perfect posture.
The spine of "There Will Be Blood" is Daniel Day-Lewis, who stars as oil-drilling entrepeneur Daniel Plainview. It is the single greatest performance of Day-Lewis' distinguished career as an actor. To go further, it is one of the greatest performances in cinematic history. Daniel Plainview is one of the most fascinating and complex protagonists ever seen on the big screen. I use the term "protagonist" loosely. Plainview is as slimey as the oil he has devoted his life to drilling, and as dangerous as the tools he uses to do so. He may look human, he may sound human, and at times he may even act like a genuine human being, but if there is any humanity in this man, it is buried deeper than the oil he drills.
Plainview swindles people out of their homes, their property, their fortunes, without a care. But what makes the character so interesting is the sneaking suspicion that he's not completely cold, that there is humanity in the depths of his soul, or was, at one point. It seems like he may love his adopted son, H. W. (Dillon Freasier) - but just when we're sure he does, Anderson pulls the rug out from under our feet. Plainview's memories of "back home," recounted to his brother Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor), are worth noting. Plainview talks about a house he saw when he was a boy.
"I thought as a boy that was the most beautiful house I'd ever seen, and I wanted it," Plainview remembers. "I wanted to live in it, and eat in it, and clean it. And even as a boy, I wanted to have children to run around in it."
Henry points out that Plainview can have anything he wants now. He can make his own house, one that looks just like the house from his childhood.
Plainview grimaces. "I'm sure if I saw that house now," he spits, "it would make me sick."
It's one of two scenes in the film which offer glimpses into Plainview's soul, or what remains of it. The second also involves Henry: this time, Plainview admits, "I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little ... I can't keep doing this on my own, with all these ... people." He spits out the last part as though he'd swallowed an insect, and then he laughs. The world is his own private joke.
But there can be no joking about Day-Lewis' performance. Daniel Plainview is in his eyes. He's in the way he talks, the way he moves, the way he breathes. He is Daniel Plainview. And though the film rests upon his broad and sturdy shoulders, he is supported by a similarly talented cast.
Highlighting the supporting cast is young Paul Dano, last seen as the irritating emo kid from "Little Miss Sunshine." Dano, as the media has noted, plays two different roles: brothers Paul and Eli Sunday. Paul Sunday appears in only one scene, informing Daniel Plainview of the wealth of oil ready to be drilled on the Sunday farm. Eli Sunday is, essentially, the head of the Sunday family, and even the head of the town. He leads the local church, and delivers passionate sermons that are, frankly, godawful. He is also the thorn in Daniel Plainview's side. It's the perfect role for Dano to showcase a depth not even hinted at in his previous roles. He may be one to watch out for in the future.
Dillon Freasier is also noteworthy. There is something absolutely fascinating about his distant and confused portrayal of H. W. Plainview. He seems like the embodiment of all the good devoid from his adoptive father. This is Freasier's first film role, but he's already make his mark.
Paul Thomas Anderson, on the other hand, made his mark a decade ago, but only with "There Will Be Blood" has he truly had an impact on cinematic history. Though elements of the film may recall the work of Stanley Kubrick, or the work of Robert Altman (who was one of the biggest influences on Anderson's previous films), this is the first film Anderson has made which has felt wholly original. It's the work of a true visionary. Finally, Anderson feels like the god behind-the-scenes who ties together all the threads of existence, rather than the gifted puppetmaster with a vision as he may have seemed before. Each shot, stunningly photographed by Robert Elswit, has a beautiful directness which recalls the glory days of Hollywood studio epics.
Thematically, "There Will Be Blood" recalls one classic in particular: John Huston's "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Huston's dark masterpiece, which revolved around two beggars who wind up a trip to Mexico and discover a wealth of gold in the hills, has a lot in common with Anderson's own bleak masterpiece. Both portray the corruption of the human soul as inevitable, although "Blood" is a little less harsh in its delivery of the statement. At the start of each film, audiences are allowed the tiniest bit of hope, which is gradually squeezed until there is nothing left to do but submit to this frightening vision of humanity. Lastly, both films end on a comic note, albeit a blood-stained note for Anderson's film. He's said that he watched "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" every night during production before going to bed. Suffice to say it shows.
As far as editing goes, "There Will Be Blood" owes a lot to the taut, scene-into-scene style of Stanley Kubrick, particularly "The Shining." "Blood" is edited by Dylan Tichenor, who also edited "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia." "Boogie Nights"' pacing recalled the work of Martin Scorsese, while "Magnolia" moved with the frenetic pacing of an Altman movie on crack. Anderson's last picture, 2002's "Punch-Drunk Love," is among the most lush, dreamy movies in recent memory; that film's editing was smooth and breezy. Even the most astute moviegoer would have a hard time believing that the same man who brought you the film where Adam Sandler acts or the movie where the sky rains frogs has now brought us this hulking, somber reflection on the human spirit.
One final note: the score is composed by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. As one might expect, it's a bit of an oddity, which makes it all the more fitting for a movie like this. It is certainly among the most sparse film scores in history, but its unusual instrumentation renders it one of the more interesting and potent soundtracks of the new millennium.
Just how good is "There Will Be Blood"? It's good enough to drink the milkshake of any other movie released this decade. It is the finest film of 2007, surpassing even the Coens' extraodinary "No Country for Old Men" - but better still, it's one of the best movies ever made. Very, very few films this century have come near this level of greatness - in fact, only Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy comes to mind. "There Will Be Blood" is a film which makes a powerful statement through powerful filmmaking. Its performances are peerless, its photography is beautiful and direct, its editing is classically tight, and its direction - well, P. T. Anderson may not be Scorsese or Coppola yet, but by god, he's on his way.
Many a year goes by without a movie of this quality, importance, and lasting value being made. 2007 saw two: No Country for Old Men, and this one. Both were richly and rightly rewarded at the 2008 Academy Awards. Whatever one's notions of the subject matter, the director, the writers, or the actors involved, Blood punches you in the gut and won't stop until it winds down to its abrupt and astonishingly right ending. Like the best of classic movies, it compels your attention. … more
Upton Sinclair's epic novel OIL! has been successfully transformed to a film by screen writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson ('Magnolia','Boogie Nights', etc). The film is a long song (158 minutes), covering a fascinating span of time in turn of the century California when oil gained the lure of gold and transformed the land and the people into creatures of capitalism and greed and lust, and were it not for the presence of Daniel Day-Lewis' powerful performance as the man who makes it all happen, … more
Unmistakably a shot at greatness, Paul Thomas Anderson'sThere Will Be Bloodsucceeds in wild, explosive ways. The film digs into nothing less than the sources of peculiarly American kinds of ambition, corruption, and industry--and makes exhilarating cinema from it all. Although inspired by Upton Sinclair's 1927 novelOil!, Anderson has crafted his own take on the material, focusing on a black-eyed, self-made oilman named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose voracious appetite for oil turns him into a California tycoon in the early years of the 20th century. The early reels are a mesmerizing look at the getting of oil from the ground, an intensely physical process that later broadens into Plainview's equally indomitable urge to control land and power. Curious, diverting episodes accumulate during Plainview's rise: a mighty derrick fire (a bravura opportunity that Anderson, with the aid of cinematographer Robert Elswit, does not fail to meet), a visit from a long-lost brother (Kevin J. O'Connor), the ongoing involvement of Plainview's poker-faced adoptive son (Dillon Freasier). As the film progresses, it gravitates toward Plainview's rivalry with the local representative of God, a preacher named Eli Sunday (brimstone-spitting Paul Dano); religion and capitalism are thus presented not so much as opposing forces but as two sides of the same coin. And the worm in the apple here is less man's greed than his vanity. Anderson's offbeat take on ...