From writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson comes There Will Be Blood. An extreme departure from his other work, but a welcomed one. It’s impressive when a director can create different types of films, and Anderson does impress. TWBB is a sprawling story of oil man Daniel Plainview, played jaw-droppingly great by Daniel Day-Lewis. The movie follows Plainview from the beginning of his oil days to many years in the future. One day, a strange young man by the name of Paul Sunday tells Daniel about a place where he could make a fortune. In exchange for the information, Paul is given $600 and sent on his way. It turns out that the place he spoke of was his old family ranch where the rest of his kin remain. This includes his brother, Eli, a self proclaimed prophet. Plainview, obviously not a man of God, does not take a liking to Eli. In fact, much of the film depicts his growing hatred of Eli, as well as all those around him.
Daniel Day-Lewis goes so far beyond what is expected of an actor, becoming the undeniable highlight in an already masterful film. Paul Dano, an actor I have been fond of since a surprising performance in The Girl Next Door, continues to grow as an actor. However, when he shares a scene with Day-Lewis, he does have a little trouble. The supporting cast are of the highest quality and really add to the movie.
Paul Thomas Anderson abandons his trademark zooms and tracking shots for Kubrick-like film making. Distracting, violent music plays over still shots of desert. The camera lies still as we observe Plainview’s increasing insanity. I believe this to be the best study of madness since The Shining. Day-Lewis matches Nicholson’s legendary performance and, dare I say, surpasses it. However, TWBB brings more to the table than just madness. The Shining never had too much below the surface (come on, it was a Stephen King book) but TWBB is overflowing with artistry and hidden meanings.
The score, composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is unforgettable. Not always pleasing to the ears, but always enhancing that which is on screen. It draws attention to itself at unexpected moments, suggesting unusual emotion behind the events and dialogue. Even if one is not for the bizarre music, there is no denying that it matches the tone and oddity of the storytelling. If nothing else, it solidifies Greenwood as a composer of the utmost quality and creativity.
It is evident we are not supposed to like Plainview early on. He lacks a redeeming quality. The only apparent attribute going for him is his supposed love for his “son”. However, that doesn’t really count when we also see his desire for oil is stronger. It is much easier to take the side of Eli Sunday. I would like to suggest, however, that both men are similar. Different beliefs, yes. Different personalities, yes. But both men suffer from the same disease, lust for power, and both deal in deception. Plainview and Sunday are both selfish, and will use others for personal gain. This is a film that requires multiple viewings and deep thinking to fully analyze the characters.
The movie is long, and not for everyone. It is very strange, at times slow, but always, in an odd way, thrilling. It is captivatingly sad, desperately insane, but mostly completely terrifying. The last 15 minutes gave me chills that still echo at the thought of what took place. In the wrong hands, the heart of capitalism and the word of God is as black as oil.
The film’s ending is currently being debated. Some say it doesn’t fit and is too extreme and macabre. I believe it is the only logical place to go after exploring the darkness of man’s greed. The film’s last moments, last shot and last spoken line are legendary. Rarely can a movie have such a lasting impression solely with one frame. TWBB is among impressive territory, and even if doesn’t match the films that inspired it, it still serves as another brilliant work in P.T. Anderson’s career. It seems he can’t go wrong. I have heard critics say he borrows too much from other artist’s material. This is ridiculous as his original stories are all just that, original. So what if he borrows some techniques? Would it be better if we never saw another movie reminding us of Kubrick or Welles? Masterpieces breed masterpieces. That’s a good thing.