“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
There Will Be Blood is a film that has all the ingredients for greatness. Daniel Day-Lewis, the most selective actor in Hollywood, decides to break his habitual film hiatus and hop on board this project with Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the most acclaimed young directors in the business. It’s a historical epic with a tense, compelling script and some of the most fascinating visual potential for a film of this caliber. Thankfully, There Will Be Blood delivers on all of its promises, and the end result is one of the most captivating narratives in recent years. As is common with “great films,” I was worried that There Will Be Blood wouldn’t live up to the hype. In this case, I am glad to say I was wrong, and this is a film that just about earns every second of its nearly 3 hour run.
What lies at the core of this movie is oil: this gooey, black, horrible, fantastic substance that rushes through the pipelines of early 1900s California. Daniel Plainview wants it. This is a film about a lot of things, somehow managing to balance its many themes with ease, but it’s all rooted in blackness. Greatness, wealth, success, glory, greed, competition, rivalry, blood – it’s all about the oil. Plainview finds himself in a face-off with fiery preacher Eli Sunday. Just as oil is burned for energy purposes, it serves as a more symbolic fuel for the clash between the two men and for Plainview’s obsession with greatness and heated competition. There Will Be Blood offers a story unlike anything I’ve seen in a film before, and the narrative is so airtight and the dialogue so sharp that the script alone (also conceived by Paul Thomas Anderson) is a work of greatness.
An integral part of the movie’s success is the weight that Daniel Plainview holds as a character and the way Day-Lewis actualizes this in his performance. While most actors avoid method acting to such an extreme, it’s clear in a Day-Lewis performance that the technique can yield beautiful results. The way he speaks, moves, thinks – every second of this performance feels genuine while also very dramatic. Watching the “I drink your milkshake” scene at the end of the film is the most alert and invested I’ve been in a film for quite a while. Every word that comes out of Day-Lewis’s mouth feels like sweet, sweet oil fueling a fire, and this is the film’s secret to its fantastic pacing. If you have strong actors such as Day-Lewis driving your narrative, you can milk your audience’s time for far longer than you probably should.
The two Oscars this film ended up winning are the best indications to its success. The first went to Day-Lewis for Best Actor for his captivating performance. The second went to Robert Elswit for Best Cinematography. The frequent collaboration between Elswit and Anderson is apparent in a film such as this. I think a rookie filmmaker could learn a lot about setting up their shots by reading the script for There Will Be Blood, identifying how they would set up the shots, and then being taught a lesson by the actual cinematic decisions. One scene that sticks with me particularly well is towards the beginning when one of Plainview’s workers is struck on the head by a falling object while working in the oil mines. Anderson’s cinematic direction is so physical, and the visual style is incredibly gritty and dim to match both the time period and the thematic elements of the film. Anderson and his team bring such care and detail to the film’s visual elements, and it’s really a telling example of how talent and hard work can bring a film from simply being great to achieving greatness.
If the run time or even the subject matter are deterring you from watching this film, I would advise you to give yourself thirty minutes with it. If you’re not impressed by the visceral visual elements and the depth of Day-Lewis’s performance, maybe this isn’t the film for you. I’ll concede that the plot may take some time to really get going, and I would completely understand complaints about the indulgence and pacing of the story. I didn’t have a problem too much with this one, but I know that some people certainly would for those reasons. However, if you really want to dive into Paul Thomas Anderson, this is a wonderful film with which to do so. He’s at the peak of his talent with this production, and it’s a strong example of finely crafted cinema that I’ll be watching again and admiring many times in the future.
Films Left to Watch: 938