There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

10Jun11

Daniel Day Lewis (Daniel Plainview). Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Rating: 12A. Running time: 158 minutes.

If there’s one thing There Will Be Blood puts beyond any doubt, it’s that Daniel Day Lewis is today’s Marlon Brando. He may sit comfortably amongst a handful of actors any of which could fairly claim to be the best in the business right now, from Sean Penn to Javier Bardem, but when it comes to sheer screen power, pure presence, an indescribable aura of invincibility, Day Lewis storms to victory. I’m almost certain his physique helps him, and that roaring voice and those dark, easily vicious eyes, but when he gets his teeth into characters like Daniel Plainview and Bill Cutting – men with a drive and an evil streak – Day Lewis becomes untouchable. I feel like I could watch his performances for days on end and never fail to be stunned by his talent. The man is a revelation, and no amount of words can begin to explain what it is like to experience his powers. You just feel them, and for a long time after you don’t want to watch anything else. If I were an actor, his work would make me hang up my boots out of respect.

The film is made, then, by Lewis’ contribution alone, but Anderson works damn hard to ensure his performance is as easy as possible to appreciate. After building the character, he then built the world in which it could flourish, and the result is a film that is quite outrageous. I don’t know how we’re supposed to appreciate the extent of its greatness only four years after its release. All I know is that anyone with eyes, ears and a mind can sense a masterpiece being carved out in front of them. It feels huge because it is. If there’s one film of the last ten years that will undoubtedly stand the tests of time, it’s There Will Be Blood.

It’s in every sense an American film, and not only in its grandiosity, its boldness, its Southern desolate setting. Just consider the themes that dominate it: the pursuit of wealth, literally unrestricted in its ruthlessness. Perhaps to be truly American that pursuit needs to be instrumental to happiness, and in that sense, then, an end is missing. Plainview seemingly has no goal in sight. He digs oil for the sake of digging oil and makes thousands by doing so, revelling in his craft. It’s an obsession, but for what purpose we never know. He doesn’t even know. When someone tries to buy him out and make him a millionaire, he protests, ‘but what would I do?’ No family, except the son of his tragically killed worker he takes under his wing; no friends, and him openly confessing a disgust for people. No happiness. Just a constant drive for more wells and pipelines, knocking down anything that gets in his way.

Those obstacles aren’t merely property rights and technology; he also has to clear his path of people, and he does so with a cold, Thrasymachean zeal. He doesn’t need to display his dark side too often, but when he does it is quick and calculated. The entire film is his arena in which to stroll, build and bully, and every scene feels totally under his control. It’s filmed to look like Lewis is conducting an orchestra; he’s positioned in shot after shot as the God in control of the puppets casting shadows in the Platonic Cave.

The second major American theme is also his main problem: in this small, dying desert town everyone is staunchly Christian, and the community’s young Priest considers himself the Third Revelation. His services are rapturous in their intensity. Plainview has to play along for good will purposes, but the tension between these two provides the film’s highest moments. Alongside the fate of his adopted child, who slowly goes deaf-mute from the sound of an explosion and becomes impossible to live with, these strands provide the bleakness in a life already not obviously glorious. We witness someone who is incomprehensible, yet still completely and irresistibly gripping in his mission and his nihilism. We grow more disgusted with every line that Lewis spits out, but we can’t stop watching him, and wanting his journey to go on forever.

Anderson shoots the film like an epic. Here is a man that knows the value of slow camera movement, and the potential for eeriness when there is minimal music. It plays out as an antithesis of everything my very favourite movies possess in abundance: pace in story development, loudness in both soundtrack and filmmaking. There Will Be Blood doesn’t speed up once, and that’s because with Lewis at the helm Anderson can afford to take his time on everything, safe in the knowledge that whatever he shoots, be it baron land scouring or a buy-out pitch, his film won’t fail to be enthralling. The composure here should be noted, and the lessons in its success heeded. The Coen Brothers have demonstrated they also have this skill, but no other director springs to mind that could make a film like this today. And that goes also in terms of There Will Be Blood‘s story. What makes Hollywood think we don’t have an appetite for worlds that are this horrifying, but also this human? To claim cinema is dying, there are many things you can point to, not least the current listings on Odeon.com. But this one glows magically as a film miles above the rest. It’s as good as this art form gets.

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3 Responses to “There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)”

  1. 1 Princess of Peace

    You mention Day-Lewis, Penn and Bardem. That is the Holy Trinity of Actors working today as far as I am concerned.

  2. 2 Chris Lambert

    He is the “third” revelation, to be exact haha

  3. 3 Ted Cunterblast

    i agree with everything you said. I feel it is unfortunate that the masses of sheeple don’t appreciate such a film and i would love to see more like this, less films that substance bankrupt.


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