Movie review: ‘There Will Be Blood’ is Anderson’s epic of greed, manipulation and insanity
December 27, 2007
Someday, we’re probably going to look back at “There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic about greed, lies, manipulation and insanity, and call it his masterpiece.
Which is incredible because, except for the inescapable intensity, it’s nothing like his previous films; if Anderson’s name weren’t on it, you’d never know it was his. It’s thrilling to see him reinvent himself this way, applying his formidable directing talents in a totally different fashion.
Gone are the film-school tricks he made his name with in “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” (and this critic loved those movies). Anderson has moved out of contemporary L.A. and away from the histrionics of the carefully orchestrated ensembles he set there. He now seems more interested in storytelling and character development.
What a character he’s created in Daniel Plainview ” and what a performance he’s gotten out of Daniel Day-Lewis.
As a turn-of-the-century oil man, Day-Lewis gives one of the more terrifying turns of his long and eclectic career. He just completely dominates. He can be charming and cruel in the same breath, and with an accent reminiscent of John Huston, he says and does whatever he must to get his way.
That includes taking over a chunk of the central California coast and building a town there so that he can drill. (Anderson based his script very loosely on Upton Sinclair’s 1920s muckraking novel “Oil!”) A one-time silver miner, Plainview accidentally finds gold one day and sets his sights higher; this all takes place at the film’s start, which stunningly lasts 15 wordless minutes.
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“I hate most people,” Plainview eventually confesses in a rare moment of introspection. The only one he connects with is his young son, H.W. (confident newcomer Dillon Freasier), who travels with him from town to town and tries to soften up the locals to get them to sell their land.
One person in Plainview’s latest target of Little Boston who sees right through his tactics is the fresh-faced, seemingly innocent preacher, Eli Sunday, played with unexpected volatility by Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”). Eli comes off as soft-voiced, pious and ingratiating. He offers to give a blessing when Plainview opens his first derrick, for example, and won’t take no for an answer. (“It’s a simple blessing, Daniel, but an important one,” he insists.)
But once Eli is on a roll, preaching in the town’s crowded, makeshift church, he turns into a wildly charismatic evangelist ” and right then and there, Plainview knows he’s met his match. They hate each other instantly; both recognize they’re two sides of the same coin. And the ensuing, humiliating game of one-upmanship in which they engage is raw and riveting.
Just as Plainview enjoys his greatest success, though, he also suffers his greatest heartbreak. He gets his gusher but the spectacular derrick explosion leaves H.W. without hearing. This also marks the beginning of the end of Plainview’s sanity, which at best was tenuous. The more money he makes, the more his mind and morals deteriorate.
Could this be Anderson’s cautionary tale about the evils of greed and wealth? Hardly. He’s never judged his characters before (porn stars, junkies) and he’s not about to start now. It’s more like a character study of a fascinating and deeply flawed man during a time of great change in our country. Reading much more into his intentions would be foolish.
One quibble: “There Will Be Blood” feels a bit too long, though it is shorter than Anderson’s magnum opus “Magnolia,” which ran just over three hours. Nevertheless, at the end ” and the climax is a jaw-dropper, one that hopefully hasn’t already been ruined for you through news reports ” you may have a hard time getting out of your seat. It’ll knock you out.
But please do take the time to see it on the big screen, for Robert Elswit’s sprawling, dreamlike cinematography; for Jack Fisk’s elaborate production design; and for the modern, dissonant score from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood that will grab you and set you on edge from the first frames.
It’s worth the emotional investment. “There Will Be Blood,” which is both a threat and a promise, is one of those movies that will stick with you and change your mood for days.
“There Will Be Blood,” a Paramount Vantage release, is rated R for some violence. Running time: 158 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.