Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier and Kevin J.
Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson ( Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love)
Running Time: 168 Minutes
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
From the opening scenes, There Will Be Blood is a complete departure from any other film that has been released in recent memory. A simple title in an olde English-style font flashes in white on a black screen. Johnny Greenwood’s discordant score of predominantly primal beat arrangements plays over a view of the desolate hilly California Landscape. A non descript man (Daniel Day Lewis) becomes chipping away with intensity while sparks fly off the pick emanating small flickers of light to the in the depths of the mine. Lewis climbs in and out of the mine with chilling silence, acclimating the viewer to the claustrophobic surroundings that form the basis of the film’s spatial atmosphere. No dialogue is spoken. The building tension is unmistakable.
This opening scene brings to mind of Paul Thomas Anderson’s remarkable opening scene of his previous film Magnolia. That scene is about the connection between seemingly unconnected events; a series of coincidences that the narrator simultaneously lay out while questioning the veracity of the claims. An opening montage so plodding and intricate, comprised of mixed newsreel and lookalike old time footage made a point that the viewer was left to ponder for the rest of the film, sticking in your mind as a starting point for the 3 hour multitude of interconnected stories that ultimately unfolded. In stark contrast, the opening of There Will Be Blood shows another side of Anderson’s filmmaking ability. It is simple, striking, and shows the ferocity of Lewis pursuing his objective, alone and driven, when most men wouldn’t dare such an endeavor.
Upton Sinclair’s book “Oil!” is the base material for the film which tells the story of a turn-of the-century oil prospector\driller named Daniel Plainview (Lewis) approached by a young man (Paul Dano) who claims that his family’s land is rich with black gold. Plainview goes to explore this information with his young son and partner H.W. (Dillon Freasier) and finds the young man’s claims to be true. He begins the process of setting up drilling leases in this town of Little Boston and convincing the local people of the importance of his work and its merits to the community. Yet the community seems primarily concerned with the wellbeing of its church and its teenage fire & brimstone healer/preacher Eli Sunday (also played by Dano).
Anderson’s script has three acts. The first is the young exploits of Plainview. The second act is primarily his trials and tribulations in Little Boston. The third and final act is the post Little Boston era (I will avoid going into detail about this portion). The film explores a world of contrast from only a century that was a seemingly simpler time yet one with the same battles occurring as they occur now, albeit on a smaller, more personal scale. There Will Be Blood is a story of the will-power of one man and what is necessary for someone to make it independent of the persuasive power of mega-corporations while juggling the interests and complaints of all those involved.
So why is There Will Be Blood an instant classic of a film? The story is interesting. The direction is fantastic. But it is quite possible that the only man that can fit in the shoes of Daniel Plainview is Daniel Day Lewis. There is a reason that the poster There Will Be Blood contains the image of the focused glare of Daniel Day Lewis; he makes the film. His character is the focus of the film and every moment he is on screen your eyes gravitate towards him. He never leaves a moment empty. One can imagine after viewing this performance that Lewis would have made an excellent silent film actor. His every movement and facial expression seems to have intent and meaning to be analyzed. His character much like Johnny Greenwood’s score seems to constantly have an undercurrent of possible eruption. There are moments when the tension swells only to be defused and then there are moments through the film where Lewis violently digresses into something of a caveman who is running on instinct and pure guile. Much like in his role of Gangs of New York, Lewis is the most entertaining while unpredictable violent intent rumbles inside of his gut. Some of the best scenes do also necessitate great performances from the young actors DIllon Freasier and Paul Dano, who for the most part stand toe to toe with Lewis.
Still, much of the credit must be given to Paul Thomas Anderson. There Will Be Blood boldly cements Paul Thomas Anderson’s status as one of the few true American film auteurs of this generation. He mixes the beauty of the unaffected landscapes with the early industrialization of the oil industry while perfectly matching a grittiness of the film’s overall look to match the cutthroat nature and dark sides that come out of most men when the proverbial oil starts flowing. Anderson can not overshadow the starring performance of Lewis so he integrates remarkable sound design the overall visual style of the film. Technically, the film is made so proficiently that these kinds of things can go unnoticed by the average viewer. An example of this interchangeability of visual and auditory landscape is the switching of auditory perspective of the heard landscape from a normal hearing capacity to that of a recently deafened person by muting the film and putting the audience in that shocked character’s head. Paul Thomas Anderson must receive nominations for his directing as well as his impressive screenwriting from the adapted material.
Anderson does seem to have a penchant for making long films. Three of his last four films clock in well over 2 and ½ hours. It takes a really engaging story to truly keep the audience interested for that last hour. Many find that last hour to be the bloat of the film and that directors just don’t know how to edit but for Anderson that has never really been the case. His films necessitate the running time. With Blood, the measured pace allows for the film to unfold unrushed and the length is perfectly viable. For a time during the film, I thought the audience might be in for a capitulation of a tedious half hour last act after the 2 hours of tour de force filmmaking that proceeded, all parts build up to a fitting finale. And it is perfect; a finale that validates the masterpiece-like classification of the film’s first two acts.