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  There Will Be Blood

Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Mary Elizabeth Barrett

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Produced by: JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Distributor: Paramount Vantage


     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.

     Then again, 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.

     In There 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).

     There Will 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.

     Eli’s worst 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.

     In my 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.

     There Will 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.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 1.5.2008

Screened on: 12.30.2007 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


There Will Be Blood is rated R and runs 158 minutes.

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