The title There Will Be Blood speaks of an ominous promise. Something grim is going to happen in this film and with that expectation I was constantly on edge waiting for something gruesome to happen. As the opening minutes turned into an hour, two hours, I could never fully get comfortable with what I was watching. Now, this wasn’t a bad thing. I was fully engaged with most every aspect of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood for its duration. And part of that was the expectation brought on by the uncomfortable promise of blood. But that’s not all. The visuals, the pacing, an all-time great performance and a timely theme add up to make There Will Be Blood one of the most memorable films I have seen. I considered tossing the word “masterpiece” out there but I think it should be saved for a revisit some years down the line after the film has been digested to a greater extent.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-century gold prospector turned oil tycoon. Staking his claim over the mid-west, Plainview rolls into town with his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) and speaks a line about running a family business before sticking a hole in the ground and sucking the area dry of its oil resources. Plainview is a ruthless man boiling just below the surface. He gives the appearance of love when really he’s battling as something as dark as the crude he’s pulling from the ground.
Plainview meets his match in Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young and charismatic preacher who wants all of his town’s growth and prosperity to spill over into his sanctuary. Like Plainview, Eli is also more than he appears. Yet Anderson treats him very carefully, showing the possibility that Eli might simply be just a wee bit over the top in his delivery. Or maybe he’s worse to the public than Plainview. Between Plainview and Eli, it’s the con conning the con. The struggle for money is ultimately one of control and legacy, two things neither man wishes to sacrifice.
The tension between greed (Plainview) and religion (Eli) plays out as both men show who they really are. Anderson doesn’t offer a lot of surprises, but it’s in this naturalistic unfolding of the narrative that the beauty of the film emerges. In this instance, I’m not speaking of the rich and dusty cinematography of Robert Elswit, but rather the tone in which There Will Be Blood plays out. As Plainview becomes more and more successful in his work he becomes a bigger target. Like the Roman Empire, people soon come after him. It’s in Plainview’s struggle to maintain control under ever-increasing stakes that things must come to a head. You know it leads to blood, but whose? And under what conditions?
Day-Lewis deserves every accolade he has received for his performance. It is that damn good. Although most of There Will Be Blood is very serious, I got so into his performance that by the start of the third act I was giggling because of the intensity that he brought to the role. It wasn’t out of boredom or disrespect but rather because I was watching a master at work. Much of the script’s meaning comes out in the double meanings that Day-Lewis delivers. Had the performance not been just right not only would the role be a waste, but the entire film could have been taken as cheese.
In this time of ever rising oil prices, There Will Be Blood makes you stop and wonder about the real cost of using our resources so freely. On the one hand this film is a morality tale of two men. On the other it’s a morality tale for us all, one that will hopefully make us look inward and at least ponder our own impact in the world. Even if we choose not to change, the act of thinking about our actions should add a little justification to the chaos of our modern landscape.
There Will Be Blood DVD Review
Should you opt for the single-disc DVD version of There Will Be Blood you’re just going to get one excellent movie. The bonus features come with the two-dsic Collector’s Edition Release.
The film is shown in a gorgeous enhanced widescreen format with 5.1 Surround Sound in English French and Spanish. Subtitles in these three languages are also offered.
The extras are led by a 1920s silent film The Story of Petroleum. Orignally made by the U.S. Bureau of mines, the film looks at early industry techniques and includes a new musical score by Jonny Greenwood (taken from There Will Be Blood). It is text heavy as there was no voiceover technology at the time it was produced. Nonetheless, the images combined with Greenwood’s chilling soundtrack make for an ominous journey.
Other bonus features include two deleted scenes, 15 minutes worth of research photos and footage pieced together with short film clips that together create a sort of music video, the film’s teaser preview and trailer, and a two-minute outtake.
There Will Be Blood Gallery