How does Daniel
Day-Lewis do it? If I were forced to pick the most talented
working actor in the Movie Industry today, he might just be the
man. And yet, still, much of Day-Lewis’ career is surrounded by
mystery: he only works about once every three years and lives in
Ireland, far away from the likes of most film productions.
Perhaps I haven’t read up on him enough, but I don’t think I’m
the only one wondering what the actor does in his spare time.
perhaps Day-Lewis knows just how long it takes to find the right
roles. It’s possible, even, that he needs time to allow his
acting-juices to marinate in between the occasions on which he
works. (He has been known to take to the Stage to fine-tune his
skills.) One thing’s for sure: in Day-Lewis’ near-twenty-five
years as a film actor, he has never given a bad performance.
Unprolific as his career may seem, it represents a wholly
accomplished body of work.
Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis delivers what may be his best
performance to date. He’s toothless and convictive for every
single one of the film’s 158-minutes, never slipping out of
character for one line of dialogue or gesture of the hand.
Notable density aside, the turn represents one of the greatest
instances of sustained vigor on film. That Day-Lewis is able to
take to his character in such a possessed way is something that
transcends the art of film-acting itself.
The actor here
plays Daniel Plainview, a self-made Texas businessman of the
late-1800s/early-1900s. While independently mining for precious
metals, he stumbles upon the desired commodity that is oil and
forms an entire enterprise around it. Within months of this
discovery, Plainview is tapping into the resources of the
American West. He takes to the basic principles of capitalism by
drilling and delivering oil in a manner that is more efficient
and cheaper for the buyer than that employed by his major
competitors (such as the big-corporation Standard Oil). He is a
ruthless businessman, only partnering with his dependant son,
H.W. (Dillon Freasier).
Be Blood’s plot takes off when Daniel is approached by Paul
Sunday (Paul Dano), who offers him an irresistible business
tip-off. Paul claims that his family in California lives on land
that is rich in oil, and divulges the location for $500. Daniel
follows suit and, within weeks, persuades the Sundays and their
neighbors to allow him to drill on their land. He does not do so
without a few people suspecting him of Corporate Greed, however.
Namely, Eli Sunday (Paul’s identical twin), the leader of a
fringe-Christian Church in the local town of New Boston, has his
doubts that Daniel will indeed provide him the $2,000 that he
promised in exchange for the Sunday land.
fears are affirmed, and Daniel doesn’t offer up any money. He
exploits the people of Little Boston in horrendous ways, taking
advantage of them and not feeling an ounce of guilt over doing
so. As the oil begins to flow, Daniel transforms into a
spineless monster, only existing to prove that he is bigger than
his competitors. He is obsessed with the sight of oil: oil that
is His and oil that will prove that he is superior to The Rest.
The film is
written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and, like the
filmmaker’s other works, it is simultaneously layered and
maddening and engaging. As beautifully styled as There Will
Be Blood is—Robert Elswit’s cinematography and Johnny
Greenwood’s score are bound to win countless awards this
season—its main purpose is to function as a discussion-piece.
Anderson credits his source-material as Upton Sinclair’s Oil!,
a muckraking novel that took on a family-owned oil-business of
the 1920s similar to the one operated by Daniel, but his
intentions are far more contemporary than they are historical.
Over the past
week, I’ve been contemplating exactly what Anderson wants to say
with the piece. I know that he would like the viewer to consider
the nature of witless corporations and how they relate to the
process of American Capitalism, but that glib description barely
scratches the surface. Sure, Daniel is a character that is
corrupted by the temptations of Big Business, but he’s no
guiltier of this than his more-structured competitors, all of
which would exist with or without him. It’s hard to say that the
world that he inhabits would be any better without corporations,
either; the small-town of little Boston is equally-plagued by
its own false idols of worship. Eli, who succeeds simply by
being a Little Guy who his fellow citizens relate to and believe
in, becomes just as corrupt in the process of Daniel’s drilling
as Daniel does himself.
ponderings, I have come to conclude that Anderson just wants the
viewer to think about the nature of business in America: no
more, no less. He may go down a bit hard on Capitalism in the
process—I, for one, think there’s nothing better than a
free-market and resent many of the film’s central themes—but he
has every right to do so. The seasoned writer/director merely
wants to ensure that his audience sees a need to question
authority and established structure, one of the primary intents
of art itself. That he does so in such a poetic, epic way makes
There Will Be Blood all the more of a terrific
accomplishment. The film is as experimental as it is classical.
I opened this
review discussing the sheer force displayed by Day-Lewis’
performance, and have since come to praise other aspects of the
film. In doing so, I realize that the actor’s work functions as
a foundation for the rest of the picture to branch out from. He
is the core of There Will Be Blood—make no mistake about
it—and as such allows the rest of the work to flourish. This not
only takes root in Anderson’s thought-provoking exploration of
the material’s themes, but also in the work of the other actors.
As Eli (and his less-seen brother, Paul) Paul Dano nearly
matches Day-Lewis in terms of scene-stealing power. In between
his own business-aspirations and phony-religious-fanaticism, Eli
becomes a monster in his own right, and Dano does an engrossing
job of capturing this transformation. Also terrific are Dillon
Freasier as young H.W. and Kevin J. O’Connor as a man who claims
to be Daniel’s half-brother.
Be Blood, admittedly, suffers from some pacing problems. As
consistently good as it is, the movie’s 158-minute length
sometimes seems like a chore, particularly at the end of its
second act, in which Daniel’s madness manifests itself in very
physical ways. Then again, perhaps this passage should be every
bit as tedious and sprawling as it is; after all, it does
succeed in getting under the viewer’s skin, as it undeniably
should. Not to mention, the film rebounds and ends with a bang,
concluding with two final scenes that show Daniel in old age,
still relentlessly pursuing business opportunities as he ails in
his multi-million dollar estate. The first of these involves a
conversation that he has with a now-adult H.W. (Russell
Harvard), and it revels in the powerful delivery of both
Day-Lewis and Harvard. The second (and final sequence in the
film) is a wild, go-for-broke, ultimately powerful showdown
between Eli and Daniel that encompasses all sorts of
socio-political themes, artistic abstractions,
character-epiphanies, and spurts of satire.
Whether it is a
complete masterpiece or not—I’m still not sure of this myself,
but I look forward to forming a concrete opinion on the matter
in future viewings—There Will Be Blood is surely a
Herculean accomplishment. With Day-Lewis’ commanding presence at
the forefront, Anderson chisels away at a film of supreme
political, cultural, and dramatic resonance. This is a motion
picture that will have viewers thinking long after they have
finished watching it.
12.30.2007 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.
There Will Be Blood is rated R and runs
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