Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Produced by: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi
Screenplay by: Paul Thomas Anderson || Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Kevin J. O’Conner, Ciaran Hinds
Music by: Jonny Greenwood || Cinematography: Robert Elswit || Editing by: Dylan Tichenor || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 158 minutes
2007 was a great year for dark crime dramas and vintage Oscar-bait. Having both the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men (2007) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus, There Will Be Blood, nominated for the big award in the same year was damned impressive. As Daniel Plainview would say, “It was one God damned hell of a show.” The 80th Academy Awards, which celebrated film of 2007, was also the lowest rated show since Nielson ratings were first used in 1974. No doubt the career-standout year of the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson was not the most mass audience-friendly, given their films’ morbid subject-matter. In There Will Be Blood’s (TWBB) case: The “founding fathers” of American oil dynasties and the cutthroat origins of modern American capitalism.
The film has all the elements of a typical PTA drama, namely good supporting characters, complex themes examining the human condition and society, emotional conflict and drama, and great dialogue. What raises TWBB beyond is the combination of Anderson’s veteran, wunderkind filmmaking and lead-man Daniel Day-Lewis’ powerhouse performance as Daniel Plainview, a tenacious, ambitious, and fascinating oil pioneer and one of the best film protagonists in recent years.
TWBB is a story about the rise of the early “heroes” of American capitalism, centered around the birth of the California oil industry at the dawn of the 20th century. The narrative’s focus on a man who is both the stereotypical embodiment of ruthless, crush-everything-in-your-path unencumbered capitalism and a conflicted, complex character, makes for a story that is both engrossing and incredibly cinematic.
Plainview’s character is an individual who is driven by ambition, motivated by profit, and feels little, if any, remorse for the competition he dismantles along the way. However, Plainview is far from a one-dimensional caricature. We see brief, fascinating glimpses of humanity within him through his adoption of and relationship with an orphan he takes under his wing, named H.W (Dillon Freasier). H.W. becomes a sort of business partner as well as an adopted son who Plainview raises and for which he grows deep, if conflicted, affections. The instances where Plainview’s greed overwhelms his fatherly instincts haunt him and form a deep weakness that his rival, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), exploits. The falling out between H.W. and Plainview near the end of film is the most tragic moment of the movie, sapping Day-Lewis’ character of the last of his humanity. This leads to the now famous final confrontation between Plainview and Sunday in a certain bowling room involving a discussion of oil, God, and milkshakes.
Speaking of Eli Sunday’s character, I would be negligent to overlook the fantastic performance by veteran Paul Dano as the hilarious and equally multi-layered opponent of Day-Lewis’ oil titan. Sunday is, in many ways, the opposite of Plainview — religious, superstitious, God-fearing, a people-person, and prone to effeminate mannerisms — but on the other hand, he also possesses many characteristics similar to his rival, Plainview. He is ambitious, manipulative, and calloused, asserting himself over others to stroke his ego and lust for power. The chemistry between Plainview and Sunday and their confrontations over the course of the film are the biggest strengths of the narrative. Their violent battles are amazing to watch, being endlessly quotable and full of passion. They reveal interesting details of both men, showing Dano and Day-Lewis at their most vulnerable as well as their most domineering. Depending on one’s interpretation, the film could be a parable of how modern American fiscal conservatism (Plainview) subjugates American social conservatism (Sunday).
TWBB compliments these powerful characters with PTA’s trademark camerawork, which echoes the emotions of the cast in their surrounding landscape. The merciless, desolate oil fields of southern California fascinate the viewer almost as much as the players desecrating it with their greed. Restrained static shots locked atop tripods and smooth tracking shots emphasize the narrative’s cold grace and inhuman domination. Without a doubt, this film features PTA’s best direction.
Also worth commending is the impressive soundtrack from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, which garnered TWBB further awards. The soundtrack’s chords feature sinister, chilling tones that echo the themes of the visuals, layering the movie’s emotional tones like a complex masterpiece.
If you forced me to point out something negative about the film, I would only object to the film’s length and a few instances of tedious pacing, which again, are the main problems with most of Anderson’s films. The third quarter of the story where Plainview meets an impostor claiming to be his brother goes on for too long. That’s all I have to complain about as far as weaknesses go.
There Will be Blood has since been recognized as one of the best films of the 2000s. It’s a film you have to see if you consider yourself a movie-buff, and as with any exceptional film, I urge any and all moviegoers to watch it as well. To that end, There Will be Blood features some of the best acting of the new millennium so far; Day-Lewis ran away with his Best Actor award in a smoking of the Oscar competition that hasn’t been seen since, well… his performance as Abraham Lincoln in 2012. The film is infinitely quotable, intelligent, and engrossing. See Paul Thomas Anderson at his calculating best, and bring a chocolate milkshake.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: As of this writing (2013), There Will be Blood features Anderson’s best screenplay to date. Daniel Day-Lewis is tremendous and Paul Dano is his perfect compliment. Johnny Greenwood accentuates Anderson’s haunting visuals with an equally haunting score.
—> There Will be Blood receives MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.