THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
Greed driven capitalism and fundamentalist religion clash in There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s early 20th century oil boom tale of barbarity which is loosely based upon Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!”.
The film stars a magnificent Daniel Day Lewis as silver merchant turned oil magnate Daniel Plainview, who travels from state to state along with his adopted infant son H.W. Plainview (an impressive Dillon Freasier), establishing extraction operations with his own drilling equipment, whilst undercutting numerous ranchers and farmers who are oblivious to the wealth of black gold underneath them.
When he receives word that the town of Little Boston contains an ocean of oil, Plainview quickly establishes a drilling operation yet meets resistance by Evangelical preacher and self described healer Eli Sunday (Paul Dano).
The conflict between Day Lewis’ atheist oil man and Dano’s fervent man of God is thrilling, and the films best moments happen when they are on screen together. Both characters are driven by greed and power, and believe they are morally superior over their fellow man, using different means to subject others to their will; Plainview with wealth and savage brutality, and Sunday with the word of God.
The back and forth between the two is intense, with several key scenes demonstrating the burning hatred they have for each other. One scene has Plainview bashing Sunday for failing to heal his son; Plainview then gets his comeuppance in an electrifying baptism scene where he is forced by Sunday to scream to the Lord that he is a sinner; in turn, a latter scene has Plainview humiliatingly coercing Sunday to bellow that he is a false prophet, and his God is a superstition.
The acting on hand is exceptional.
Day Lewis is astonishing, the chameleon thespian providing a stern and intimidating presence, along with a thick Jack Palance-esque growl straight from the depths of hell from which his character came. Dano – who was a last minute replacement and only given a week to prepare for his role – provides a startling turn which has been unfortunately looked over by many award bodies and critic groups, and young Dillon Freasier gives a very good performance whilst containing wisdom beyond his years.
Roger Elswitt provides gorgeous photography, and Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s eerie, grandiose, and (above all) unsettling score works a treat. Not enough credit has been given to the films sound department, who shine during the films dialogue free, 15 min opening sequence.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson – who made a name for himself with his Robert Altman inspired ensemble drama’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia – channels Stanley Kubrick whilst creating his best work yet. He has drawn excellent performances from his actors, and - along with editor Dylan Tichenor – has crafted a film which flows very well despite it’s almost 3 hour running time.
However, the scripts ambiguous tone and distracting plot developments (most notably the introduction of Plainview’s half brother almost 3 quarters into the film) halts There Will Be Blood back from becoming the masterpiece that it should be. While it is clear that Anderson has something to say about big oil and big religion, its inability to spit out its message becomes irritable and meaningless.
A nip and a tuck here and there along with more emphasis on its central themes, and this film could have been the movie of the year. As it stands, it is only a strong contender in a field of excellent prospects.