I’ve been a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work since I first saw Sydney (more commonly known as Hard Eight). His subsequent films, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch Drunk Love, were all decent films and had much to admire; however, with There Will Be Blood, Anderson has matured and created something spectacular. There Will Be Blood is a bold, visceral title that pledges its audience a certain amount of violence and it doesn’t disappoint. Based on, or perhaps more appropriately, inspired by, Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil, this film deals with the life and battle of wills between an entrepreneurial business man and a young evangelical preacher.
Some critics have tried to posit that this film is held together by a strong central performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, and I would be hard pressed to discredit his acting. However, it is selling this film short to suggest that this is not an incredible amalgamation of many different elements that coalesce to form an incredible movie.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a lone prospector of precious metals mining his own plot in 1898. After a successful discovery, the film jumps forward a few years to follow Daniel’s foray into the oil drilling business. Mr. Plainview becomes a successful businessman, or as he refers to himself, a successful “Oil Man.” On a tip promising oil, Daniel arrives in the small town of Little Boston where he meets his religious counterpart in the form of a young preacher named Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine). Dealing with economics and religion could lead one to suppose that the film is political in nature, and while some may read it this way, I would say the film deals more with obsession and narcissism. Isolation is such a central theme that it bookends the film and has lead many to make comparisons with Orsen Welles’ Citizen Kane. While there are parallels to be found thematically, it is not a derivative movie that relies on these comparisons; it is much stronger and unique.
With this film Paul Thomas Anderson has stripped away the frivolous elements that young directors who are still finding their footing tend to rely on. The scenes dictate his camera movement, employing mostly static shots held for long amounts of time. It is a credit to the acting that one is so captivated by so little movement and editing. The cutting of the film shows Anderson to have a deft understanding of exactly what he is portraying; the film is constantly shifting and evolving and it can erupt in an instant. He chooses a pallet of browns and golds, which create a strong atmosphere of filth, heat, and aridity. The score, written by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, is at once jarring and complimentary to the film. It adds to the moments rather than manipulating them and creates dimension and depth. If you get the chance, which can be difficult with its limited release, I highly recommend seeing this in the theater as this is an very engrossing film that can only benefit from the large screen.