Directed by PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, starring DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, PAUL DANO, DILLON FREASIER, and CIARAN HINDS.
A film of both tremendous intensity and epic proportions, ‘There Will Be Blood’ is set in a seemingly godless, Darwinian world, where ambition and avarice take centre stage. Based loosely on the novel ‘Oil!’ by Upton Sinclair, the film begins roughly at the start of the twentieth century in California, where independent oil men compete fiercely for ownership of the state’s newly discovered oil wells. The film follows the megalomaniacal Daniel Plainview (DANIEL DAY-LEWIS), one such oil man, who, accompanied by his adopted son H.W. (DILLON FREASIER), rapidly purchases available land in his ongoing quest to succeed and ultimately outdo his competition in the business. Upon drilling in a new area of land peculiarly named ‘Little Boston’, Plainview clashes with the local preacher Eli Sunday (PAUL DANO), whose delusions of religious grandeur expose an ambition that matches that of the unyielding oil man. Directed by Paul Thomas-Anderson, ‘There Will Be Blood’, claimed by some to be a ‘masterpiece’, received eight Oscar nominations, won ‘Best Actor’ for Day-Lewis’ performance, and was subject to glowing reviews across the board.
‘There Will Be Blood’ is, on the surface, an age old tale of morality, a Steinbeck style epic that spans a generation in the bare Californian landscape. However, what really elevates this film above others, and allows it to transcend these realms of a straightforward ‘story’, is the powerfully penetrating character study that exists at the heart of the film. The ‘ego battle’ between Plainview and the Young Preacher Eli Sunday is orchestrated so skilfully by both Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, that any moment that sees both actors on screen together, is always one that demands the viewers full attention. Day-Lewis in particular, delivers a complete tour-de-force of a character in Plainview, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and who, by his own admission, wants ‘no one else to succeed’. While Plainview is oftentimes strikingly cold and malignant, Day-Lewis has successfully fashioned a character of multiple-dimensions, a character whose occasional diabolical personality is interspersed with moments of what appear to be vulnerability and even sincerity. At times, the enigmatic role played by Day-Lewis even succeeds in commanding endearment from the viewer, captured in rare, fleetingly beautiful moments. One such moment sees Plainview desperately trying to come to terms with himself, straining to reveal to a close associate that he hates most people, and sees ‘nothing worth liking’ in them. Day-Lewis shines in these scenes, adding sentimental depth to a character that thrives on an animalistic ferocity, the way only this incredibly talented actor can.
At times, the film does seem to drag. With a two and a half hour running time and very little notable ‘action’, it can seem as though the story is becoming stale, lacking the vibrancy and the flare that may be expected of a film with an above average length. The sometimes plodding nature of the story however, whether it is to the taste of all viewers or not, does serve the important purpose of allowing the tension to build gradually. Just as the ever present oil bubbling below the surface of the Californian landscape will eventually and inevitably surface, the searing rivalry between Plainview and the local preacher promises an assured climax, remaining strictly congruent with the film’s ominous title.
The film can also boast an impressively well orchestrated, award winning soundtrack composed entirely by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. With an assortment of lively strings and distinctly primitive percussion, Greenwood’s score fits perfectly within the framework of the movie, gradually becoming more prominent as the story progresses, and reflecting the rising tension that lies at the core of the picture. In fact, it is the music’s ability to reflect so often the mood and the tone of the film that makes it so uniquely memorable. In the same way that the stripped back, barren surrounding landscape bears witness to the primal, avaricious goals of men, the abrasive background composition provides a primitiveness of its own, with archaic percussion meanwhile amplifying to a fever pitch of intensity.
Though buoyed down by a lengthy running time and some periods of relative inactivity ‘There Will Be Blood’ is a film possessing a magnificence that will only dawn upon the viewer once the final scene has cut out and the credits begin to roll. Paradoxically, the film’s own intensity often spills over into darkly comic territory, especially during scenes of violence and conflict, but this only adds to its appeal, allowing it to successfully transcend genres and remain the satisfying enigma that it is. With superb acting from Day-Lewis and Dano, a fittingly excellent soundtrack, and possibly one of the most captivating endings you will ever see on film, Paul Thomas-Anderson has ultimately created a movie that can be watched over and over, and that will resonate with its audience long after a first viewing. With a constantly intensifying plot and an often powerful emotional density surrounding the story’s characters, ‘There Will Be Blood’ is both a story of historical importance and a timeless tale of human endeavour and greed. As Plainvew so ineloquently observes after one of Eli Sunday’s elaborate sermons: ‘That was one goddamn hell of a show’. I couldn’t have put it better myself, Daniel.
Ryan JD Morgan-Kleinman