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There Will Be Blood

USA 2007
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
158 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

There Will Be Blood

Synopsis: Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a solitary miner digging for gold on his Texas claim in the late 1890s. He doesn’t find gold but he does find oil. Accompanied by his son he embarks on the life of an oilman. One day a young man (Paul Dano) comes to him and tells him where to find large deposits of the black gold. Much to Plainview’s delight the information is good but the price he has to pay is not just in dollars.

Loosely based on the 1927 novel 'Oil!' by Upton Sinclair, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is a enthralling film, finely scripted and directed by Anderson with wonderful production design by Jack Fisk and splendid cinematography by Anderson regular, Robert Elswit and hosting an Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead.

As Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis is the mesmerizing focal point of the film, the ruthless force whose indefatigable hatred of life drives the narrative. Plainview is a brilliantly drawn character, extraordinary yet believable, a mixture of charm and near-diabolism, steady determination and uncontrollable violence.  In some ways he is reminiscent of Michael Corleone – a man who sells his soul for gold, for the unholy mantra of "business" (the film could deservedly be seen as an allegory of capitalism) but which in the end, is nothing at all. Yet whereas Corleone pays the price of everything he holds dear, Plainview ultimately holds nothing dear at all. There have been no end of accolades for Day-Lewis, who had already won an Oscar for his brilliant performance in My Left Foot (1989) and his Daniel Plainview is an equally marvellous creation,

Whilst there are many films that are largely carried by an outstanding lead performance, this is not the case here. Anderson’s direction is first class, abounding with beautifully-created, completely focussed moments that carry his meaning on a purely visual level. The superb production design and cinematography carry us to the story’s place and time as few films ever do, making this a fine example of historical verisimilitude (it is based in part on real characters and events) at the same time as being compelling story-telling.

Some may question the film's ending. A good portion of There Will Be Blood is given to a battle of wills between the ruthless oilman and a young would-be charismatic preacher, Eli (Paul Dano, taking a major career leap from his break-out role in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine), as each uses the other for his self-seeking purpose. After Eli has seemingly left the narrative and Plainview’s story has effectively been resolved (a comparison with Michael Corleone again comes to mind), Anderson re-unites them for a final, shocking but ultimately redundant confrontation and then brings down the curtain with the seemingly incongruous 3rd movement from Brahms' violin concerto (for the rest of the film, Jonny Greenwood's atmospheric score does fine service). Much as this is an outstanding scene, had the film ended with the haunting image of the drunk Plainview sitting alone at his desk having just destroyed the only possibility of love in his life, enough would have been said. Nevertheless There Will Be Blood is Anderson’s masterpiece, a genuine contender for motion picture greatness.

FYI: For another story of oil and self-destruction see George Steven’s Giant (1956)




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