There Will Be Blood
The most important commodity in the modern world is oil. Men have lived and died for that viscous black substance that lies hidden in the ground. Many of the wealthiest, most powerful men in history made their fortunes with oil. Wars are still being fought over possession of the precious liquid. Starting in the late 1800s any area where oil was discovered would become an instant center of a large population. There have been many novels and films about the oil rushes of the eighteen and nineteen hundreds but very few have reached the impact and sheer brilliance of ‘There Will Be Blood’. This film is the rarest of occurrences. It is the perfect blend of skillful writing, incredible direction, stunning cinematography and amazing acting. Now that may seem like a lot of adjectives and it is. The thing here is that they do not begin to describe this film. You do not sit and watch this film you are drawn into the world it depicts and experience it. For all of its power and drive this is not your typical Hollywood ‘feel good film.’ There are no happy endings, no moral character arc. The film was loosely based on the 1927 novel ‘Oil’ by Upton Sinclair. There term loosely is to be taken seriously here. While much was changed from the novel what remained is Sinclair’s pragmatic and often dismal view of humanity. Some people will achieve their goals not by going around obstacles but by plowing through them. There is a saying from the Bible about how bad it is to gain the world at the cost of your soul. The protagonist here would answer in no uncertain terms ‘it gains money and power’. If you have any love for the art of cinema you need to see this film.
Good news for movie buffs everywhere, Paul Thomas Anderson is back bigger and better than ever. It has been five years since his last feature film, ‘Punch Drunk Love’ but with ‘Blood’ there is no doubt that he is still a force of nature behind the camera. One quick glance at his resume will tell you that Anderson is not the kind of film maker that cranks out film after film. ‘Blood’ is only his fifth feature length film but he is far from a novice in his crafts. He is one of the most creative people around in all his fields; writing, producing and directing. As a writer he is able to strip bare the essence of humanity and while is is rarely pretty to see Anderson reveals it with style. In ‘Boogie Nights’ he showed a man who based his life on one physical attribute and how that life crashed when fame fled. In ‘Magnolia’ Anderson accomplished what so few in film have been able to do; create numerous stories and have them intersect without loose one iota of any of the individual plot lines. In this film he concentrates his unique story telling ability to show the audience the life of a man obsessed with success at all costs. He does take liberties with the original novel but the result is a story that will hold you attentive through out the two and a half hours of running time.
As a director Anderson is able to convey the story at hand in such a way that you have to watch. No matter how gritty his film gets it is executed so well that he mesmerizes the viewers. Thomas moves away from his usual location of urban Los Angels to take us to Texas which substitutes nicely for the oil rich lands in California. There is a visceral nature to this film that is pounding. The characters are so well drawn and presented here that even the protagonist who is the ultimate in misanthropy captures your attention. You know that this will not end well for any of the characters but thanks to the masterpiece direction of Anderson you can’t wait to watch the tale unfold. This is darker than any previous work of Anderson and that is saying a lot. He is not a cheery film maker and this piece takes the audience on a journey to some of the worse aspects a man can fall into. In most character driven films there is a hope of redemption. Here, there is none asked and none given.
The film covers some three decades beginning in 1898. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), like many others of the time is a prospector. He is working several silver claims when a discovery is made that will change his life; oil is located on one of his parcels. He begins the laborious and dangerous task of pulling the oil out of the ground. He becomes very good at this even designing some of the equipment used in the drilling. Eventually he gains enough in profits to start his own oil company. During a difficult job one of his employees is killed. Plainview takes the orphaned boy to raise as his own naming him H.W. (Dillon Freasier). After a few years Plainview starts a much larger company making the grown boy his partner. By the early twentieth century he is one of the riches and most successful oil men in California. One day Plainview is approached by a young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano). He wants to sell some property believed to be rich in oil to Plainview. Plainview takes H.W. and the two look over the property and find oil oozing from the ground. Paul tries to keep his father Abel (David Willis) in the dark about the sale but his twin brother Eli (also Dano) steps in. Eli wants to raise enough money to start his own church. He demands $10,000 for the property. Plainview offers half now and the rest to be made later as a donation to the church. Plainview starts to buy up all the land in the area getting a lock on the oil rights. During an explosion on one of the well H.W. loses his hearing. A long lost half brother of Plainview comes around and Standard Oil tries to buy Plainview out. Let’s just say that life for Plainview is one dirty deal after another. He manages to steal oil right out from a neighboring property by a process called slant drilling where the oil drill is on an angle taking the oil from an adjacent property.
Every member of this cast is chosen with care for their considerable talent. Still, this film comes across almost as a one man play. The performance by Daniel Day-Lewis is so forceful that you can forget anyone else is in the film. If you thought his portrayal of the Butcher in ‘Gangs of New York’ was gritty and intense his Plainview makes Butcher seem soft and cuddly. Day-Lewis paints a portrait of a man who needs no comfort from any quarter. He has no friends, no lovers and no one he cares about. His goal in life is to be rich and powerful enough to leave the company of man behind. To this end he will stomp over anybody in the way. This role earned Day-Lewis the coveted Academy Award for Best Actor. This was in a year with extremely stiff competition but there was no one close to giving the performance he does in this film.
Paramount has two versions of this film on DVD. There was an HD-DVD variation that has been cancelled. You can select either the regular widescreen version or for about $5 more retail get the two disc Collector’s Edition. Do your self a favor and go for the two disc set. Both have an anamorphic 2.35:1 video that is reference quality. The Dolby 5.1 audio is stunning. It surrounds the room bringing you into the film. The two disc set is rich with extras.
This is one to get and treasure. It will a long time before a film like this comes around again.
Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that's a straw, you see? You watching?. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake... I... drink... your... milkshake! ... I drink it up!