There Will Be Blood Review


The first time I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” I thought film was kind of a mess. A sprawling, epic, random mess, but a thought-provoking, impeccably made, sensationally acted mess. The direction, music, and cinematography are all over the place, as is the main character who’s a bundle of contradictions, but somehow, they come together to make a phenomenal film.

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oil man, and a damn good one at that. When the film starts out (in 1898), he’s on his own, mining for gold, and we learn just how dedicated he is to his craft when he falls down a hole, breaks his leg, and crawls dozens of deserted miles to the nearest town with his discovery in tow. A few years later, Daniel has moved on to oil. When a young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) approaches him to tell him there is oil under his family’s land, Daniel packs up his son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), and heads out to Little Boston. There, he endears himself to the locals, but clashes with the town’s spiritual leader, Eli Sunday (also Paul Dano). As the drilling commences, we see just how good Daniel is at it. But the better he is, the more he destroys his own soul.

I won’t go any further with this review until I give Daniel Day-Lewis effusive praise for his volcanic take on Daniel. He appears in nearly every scene and completely owns the film. There hasn’t been a character as fascinating as Daniel in years, maybe decades. I named this the finest performance of the past decade for a number of reasons, including but not limited to his ability to make you love him one minute and loathe him the next, his incredible method, the way he balances the character’s contradictory traits, and the way he makes everyone around him much better.

Paul Dano portrays the film’s other major character, Eli. While not as successful as Day-Lewis (obviously), he holds his own. Eli is a slimy creature – a self-righteous buffoon who makes you singularly hate him and actually like Daniel. He’s over-the-top in most scenes, but it works for the character, who wants people to believe so strongly that he is a prophet that he will pretend to cure people of diseases and blame the death of a man on his not praying at the site of the accident. Dano has shown a lot of growth in the past few years (loved him in “Little Miss Sunshine” as well), and I think he is definitely someone to watch out for in the future.

The other big stars of the film are cinematographer Robert Elswitt, Jonny Greenwood, who scored the film, and of course, director Paul Thomas Anderson.

If you have any doubts how strong Robert Elswitt’s cinematography is, consider this for a second. At the 2008 Oscar ceremony, the man’s work went up against the incredible cinematography from “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Atonement,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” and won. There are some incredibly unique shots, and the things he does with lighting is unbelievable. One scene in which there is a big fire at the Little Boston oil well features some horrifying shots of Day-Lewis bathed in red light and covered in oil, making him look like the devil. But that’s just one of many haunting images from this film.

Jonny Greenwood, best known for being the guitar player for Radiohead, composes an unforgettable score, one of the best I’ve ever heard. A lot of the music is chaotic, like the film and its main character, but other times, it’s slow-paced and inconspicuous. In one of Oscar’s biggest injustices, the score wasn’t even nominated, despite being, in my view, one of the finest of all-time. Not only are the tracks memorable (several rank amongst the most played songs on my iPod), but they serve a real purpose in telling the story.

Finally, the director. With this film, Anderson proves himself to be his generation’s Kubrick. You might think that is hyperbole (it’s a hard thing for me to say considering Kubrick is my all-time favorite director), but I actually think it’s true. He’s tackled such a wide variety of topics, and unbelievably, he’s come through every time with a masterpiece or near-masterpiece (although I haven’t seen “Hard Eight”). In “There Will Be Blood,” Anderson very loosely adapts the Upton Sinclair book “Oil!” to great success. His biggest accomplishment here – combining these strange but compelling pieces into a magnificent cinematic work of art. The man is clearly on top of his game.

I can imagine this film not working for a lot of people, but it really caught on in 2007, when it was released. It received a ton of awards recognition and is regarded by many, including myself, to be the best film of the best year of the past decade. With that said, coming from the best decade does not mean this is the best film. It simply means Anderson and everyone else involved should be tremendously proud for the product they put out. It’s truly exceptional and absolutely unforgettable.

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