There Will Be Blood (loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!) is what you would call an epic– and monumental one at that. It’s another endeavor by the oh-so-masterful auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Sydney, Magnolia), and unlike several other works of his, it doesn’t concentrate on an abundance of characters, instead it focuses on only one: Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis (who’s the only recognized actor in the film). His tremendously dazzling energy alone renders this one of the most powerful films of the decades.
You will agree when I say Daniel Plainview is an oil man. His only goal in life is becoming as rich as he possibly can. He went from poor silver prospector to more-than-wealthy oil company owner, possessing several flourishing wells. In short: He’s a self-made man. When a stranger named Paul Sunday comes along and offers him the location (at a price) with huge amounts of oil, he accepts the proposition (after threatening him with his life, naturally). A small town called Little Boston is the place Paul spoke of. Daniel soon buys the Sunday family’s ranch, and most of the land around it. There he meets Eli Sunday, who is Paul’s twin brother (or so I assume), a supposed prophet and leader of the Church of the third Revelation. A peculiar and a fascinating clash between the two polarizing men (Eli being excessively religious, and Daniel an atheist) rappidly develops. Daniel’s adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) accompanies his father everywhere, as the mother died in birth and the father was in an accident when working with Daniel. He’s mainly used as a tool, a cute face, to persuade sellers of land. And as stated at the end, that was all he ever was. Nothing but a bastard from a basket.
The film is set in three different time periods, 1901, 1911 (largely focusing on these years), and 1927. Their disparity in screentime aside, all of them explore the same subjects. The progress in Daniel Plainview’s goal for wealth, the continually changing relationship with his son H.W., and his growing frustration with everyone around him (Eli Sunday in particular).
Merely saying Daniel Day-Lewis deserved his oscar for the role of Daniel Plainview is an enormous understatement. It’s as if he was born to play the callous oil baron, and he delivers — I dare say — one of the greatest performances in cinema history. Sometimes he’s gentle, but most of the times alarmingly hateful, and intermittently he feels the tiniest of regret. Day-Lewis pulls it all of with such proficiency– I have a hard time putting into words how he just sucks you in every second he’s in the frame. His clear but gritty voice, the vigorous appearance and his matching body language, it’s perfect.
The cinemaphotography by Robert Elswit is enthralling– in a way simple, but beautifully done. We harshly cut from dark close-ups to the burning white landscapes of California (something Elswit is very self-aware of), which results in a rigorous capture of the film’s essence.
There Will Be Blood is an incredible masterpiece. While, yes, having a two and half hour running time, it’s not as slow as some might have you believe. I felt the film flashing by as if it was a ninety minute popcorn flick. It has an ending so breathtaking you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself that you in fact saw what you saw (although I heard it’s a conclusion many have loathed). This, folks, is filmmaking at its finest.
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