Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” has so much startling audacity that it renders most contemporary movies lifeless by comparison. Even the best movies of recent years don’t have this kind of emotional impact. Anderson operates on a different level from most of the younger directors of today. In the manner of Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick, his camera lingers on individuals and the landscape, allowing the viewer to take the images in. We don’t feel assaulted watching his movies the way we do watching so many modern movies with their rapid editing and flashy style that try to distract audiences from shallow content.

What other filmmaker today would think of opening a movie with no dialogue for the first fifteen minutes? He shows us Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) prospecting for silver alone in the barely visible underground. Eventually, he teams up with other men looking for oil and Anderson takes the time to actually show us in precise detail what that process is like. There is an accident that occurs while drilling for oil that causes a death in the crew. Anderson shows the pain staking physical process of how oil is removed from the ground.

Daniel emerges as a self-made oilman at the turn of the twentieth century with an adoptive son (Dillon Freasier) he uses to promote his family business. He travels to towns looking for land to purchase and oil to extrapolate. Daniel becomes so successful he even draws the interest of Standard Oil. A fierce rivalry ensues when Daniel takes over a small California town drilling for oil and there is a struggle for power between the tycoon and a local fundamentalist preacher, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano). Anderson conveys the corruption of power and greed between religion and capitalism. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s “Oil”, Anderson is not particularly interested in the political point-of-view of the novel; instead he wants to tell an American story of ambition, avarice, and betrayal that destroys men’s souls. It brings to mind John Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. In fact, Day-Lewis incorporates Huston’s gravely voice as Plainview.

One day a man strolls into town claiming to be Plainview’s estranged brother. This revelation leads to consequences that further lead to Plainview’s betrayal. Paul Sunday brings Daniel to his church and forces him to admit to his sins and ask for forgiveness. Daniel falls to his knees and, after prodding from the preacher, admits, “I abandoned my child!” But Anderson is not telling a story of a man who is born again. Plainview is a man whose sole objective, to the exclusion of everything else, is to acquire vast wealth by drilling for oil after purchasing land from families he exploits. His pursuit of power and money lead to his downfall as he betrays those closest to him. Plainview retreats to a Hearst-like estate, alone with his wealth. There is a final confrontation with the preacher that ends violently.

Daniel Day-Lewis appears in almost every frame and he dominates the movie with his extraordinary volcanic emotion and subtle line readings. Just peering into Daniel’s eyes gives us a glimpse of the wickedness this man is capable of. We can’t stop watching him. When Daniel abandons his son after an accident that causes the child to go deaf, Anderson follows Day-Lewis up close so that we can intuit he knows he’s done something horrible but that he can justify this act to himself. Paul Dano gives a much more subdued performance that contrasts brilliantly with the scale of Day-Lewis’s operatic turn. Freasior is also remarkable in playing off Day-Lewis.

Johnny Greenwood’s symphonic score is original. A guitarist for Radiohead, Greenwood uses dissonant sounds to hauntingly capture the psychological turmoil in Plainview. The soundtrack is string heavy building the tension even in moments where there isn’t much action. Anderson isn’t going for big climaxes but trying to express Plainview’s state of mind. It’s the kind of score that can feel so intrusive that some audience members may feel they want to be driven out of their skull, but emotionally it has an operatic grandeur that lingers in the mind long after the movie is over. The incomparable derringer explosion scene, aided immeasurably by Robert Elswit’s cinematography, is quite thrilling. Elswit captures the black oil burning and the imagery of the yellow fires exploding with the thick black smoke filling the air is visually terrific.

“There Will Be Blood” is not flawless. It has the kind of excessive ambition that pushes us over the edge with a battle of wits ending that is as underwhelming and almost absurd as “Apocalypse Now”. Like Coppola’s epic, the ending doesn’t undermine the rest of the movie but appears to be more of a lapse. Anderson’s go for broke style, which is off-putting to many viewers, is quite refreshing to those of us who can gloss over the flaws. His failures are almost always more interesting than a lot of straightforward successful movies. There is nothing conventional in Anderson as an artist. Even as a period piece, “There Will Be Blood” doesn’t look or feel like other movies of the genre. This is a movie that will likely be recognized as an unusual masterpiece and as the further progression of a gifted artist.

2 thoughts on “There Will Be Blood (2007)”

  1. Sorry for the omission of paragraphs in the review. The paragraphs were there when I saved the draft and looked at the preview of how the review would appear. Not sure why they are missing in the published version.

  2. You can still change your review after it’s been submitted. You should be able to fix that and any other problems. Good review by the way. I definitely feel that Blood will is a masterpiece in some way; the film is just simply haunting. I’m glad you enjoyed P.T.’s visual style, he is one of my favorite directors mainly because of “Magnolia.” I feel that Lewis’ portrayal of Daniel Plainview is what makes this film great.

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