There Will Be Blood

therewillbeblood.jpgstarring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Kevin J. O’Connor
written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
rated R for some violence.

There Will Be Blood follows 30 years in the life of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), a man who embodies pure ambition, competition and greed. Plainview’s drive and intelligence win him a private fortune in the oil business during the first quarter of the twentieth century, but he leaves an incredible human cost in his wake. His family, his closest associates, and everyone who crosses his path is in danger of having their lives drained from them as surely as Plainview drains his oil fields, but his most intense rivalry is with a charismatic young minister named Eli Sunday (Dano, in a masterful performance which more than matches Day-Lewis’s more hyped work). This is a more savage take on the themes of Citizen Kane: the life of a fictional American who embodies many aspects of the people who built this country. The ending of this film is just as bleak, only without providing any sort of cathartic half-answers to its own questions.

For most of its nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, There Will Be Blood is magnificent, audacious filmmaking, as ambitious and volatile as its main character. It is a movie that doesn’t feel “safe.” This is not something that you have seen before a hundred times. It is in a class all by itself. The various elements that go into any movie are all here, but they form such a cohesive whole that it is difficult to discuss them one at a time. Paul Thomas Anderson has created a living, breathing work of cinematic art.

Filming (like another of the greatest films of the year) in the midst of the bleak West Texas landscape, the camera captures perfectly the feeling that these characters exist somewhere beyond the edge of civilization. Every performer, from Daniel Day-Lewis’s definitive lead down to the lowliest walk-on extra, matches the look of their surroundings. These are rugged, simple people living a life of bare survival that few of us today can imagine. I am not entirely certain what role visual effects play in the film, so seamlessly are they integrated into their surroundings. There must have been some to produce those geysers of thick black oil and the towering inferno of a gusher on fire, some of the most impressive sights I’ve ever seen on the big screen. But even beyond the large derrick, there are authentic trains, buildings, cars; a feast of images and sounds from life in another age. The score is amazing and organic. Enriching without intruding, it adds more to the mood of the film (and the viewer) than nearly any soundtrack I’ve heard in several years.

There Will Be Blood progresses gradually from order into chaos, descending (as the title promises) into madness and violence as it nears a stunning conclusion. The simple rivalry between Plainview and Sunday escalates, as the decades slip by, into full-scale warfare, and you think that surely the two cannot continue to co-exist forever. One of them will have to go. Sunday proves to be much more like Plainview than either man would care to admit. The two deserve each other. Plainview’s hatred for everyone around him, and especially for Sunday, festers in his mind until he is half-wild with rage and bitterness, even after he has accomplished everything he set out to do.

Unfortunately, the final scene is marred by overacting run amok (something the director really should have reigned in). The events and the ending are entirely believable and appropriate in the context of the movie, but Daniel Day-Lewis begins to almost literally chew the scenery. I was immediately pulled out of the movie by the inescapable observation, “That is someone acting.” The performance was such a contrast to most of his excellent work in the rest of the film, and that made it more jarringly noticeable. While this is the most obvious example, there were various points where everyone involved in putting the film together seems to have lost control of it; almost as though it were a wild bronco that they couldn’t quite stay on top of.

This is not a flawless film, but it is an important and meaningful one, iconic even, and made on such a grand scale that its problems are nearly negated. Absorbing on multiple levels, it is also apt to leave you feeling drained dry and wondering what, exactly, the purpose of all of that was (much as Citizen Kane did to me when I first saw it). It is a demanding film, but for those willing to dig deep and stick with it, also a potentially rewarding one.

~ by Jared on January 25, 2008.

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