Bolstered by one of the most memorable screen performances in recent memory, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is an epic-scale near-masterpiece mitigated by a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.
Daniel Day-Lewis is nothing short of extraordinary as oilman Daniel Plainview in an intense, gloriously unrestrained performance that ignites the screen and recalls the actor’s turn as Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Film as a whole is similarly unrestrained (there is, indeed, blood); overall enjoyment of the movie hinges on acceptance of the fiery vision of its director. The film’s first twenty minutes, which feature almost no dialogue, are electrifying.
Film follows the rise to power of the ruthless Daniel Plainview and his subsequent psychological deterioration; though how crazed he becomes, and how crazed he was from the start, I’m not so sure.
Plainview begins the movie as a struggling prospector who hits oil and finds his calling, creating a successful company with his son H.W. (though it’s not specifically mentioned in the film, H.W. is not Plainview’s son, but rather the orphaned child of the man killed towards the beginning; Plainview ‘adopts’ the boy as a business move and prominently displays him while pitching to investors.)
He’s visited by drifter Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who sells him the information of where he can buy oil-rich land cheaply; namely, his family’s ranch. When visiting the ranch, Plainview meets another of the Sunday clan, brother Eli (also Dano; though IMDb tells me the actor played both roles by coincidence, we inevitably suspect something is amiss), who agrees to sell Plainview the land for money needed to found his evangelical church.
Plainview makes an untold fortune off the land while tolerating Sunday, who he sees as a false prophet; an escalating conflict builds between the two as Plainview descends into madness.
Film is a tour-de-force for both Day-Lewis and Anderson, who directs this with the sure-hand of Kubrick; like it or not, his vision is undeniable. Technical credits are first-rate in every respect; breathtaking cinematography by Robert Elswit flawlessly captures oil field magnitudes alongside intimate details. Jonny Greenwood provides a haunting, memorable score.
Like Anderson’s previous Magnolia, a lot of people are bothered by the third act of There Will Be Blood; not because of the script specifics per se, but because the director seems to wallow in a kind of Kubrickian excess in a jarring departure from the rest of the film.
I had problems with the film’s ending as well, but upon a second viewing they detract less from the movie as a whole; considering the masterful hand that produced the enthralling first two hours, I say let Anderson end the movie as he sees fit.
And he most certainly has. Ultimately, I’m glad we have this visionary director who isn’t afraid to challenge his audience.
Won well-deserved Oscars for Lead Actor and Cinematography.