There Will Be Blood Review

Jan 04, 2008 | 5:01am EST

For the first several minutes of There Will Be Blood--just a small portion of its 160--there is no dialogue. Then Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) strikes oil. The year is 1898 and as time jumps ahead Plainview is soon no longer struggling to make ends meet. By the turn of the 20th century the oil prospector is something of a traveling salesman in California getting local farmers to give up their land so he can drill with his young adopted son/gimmick (Dillon Freasier) in tow. Until that is he stumbles upon a goldmine: a rural farm teeming with oil just beneath it. He promises to make the landowners the Sunday family as rich as he himself will become as a result. But the landowner’s teenage son Eli (Paul Dano) a highly religious evangelist doesn’t much care for money. In fact he doesn’t much care for Daniel his motives or his ungodliness and looks to cure him of these ills at which Daniel scoffs. The two clash on more than one occasion before not seeing each other for a while. At the end of the movie the year is 1927. Daniel is now a madman oil tycoon/recluse living off of his riches and exploitations stumbling about his oil-made mansion with alcohol in hand. He’s a shred of his former self only much wealthier. In walks his old buddy/adversary Eli who sobers him right up. As complicated a thespian god as Daniel Day-Lewis has always been in his career his acting skill has been consistently and easily the best. Every performance of his is great to the same degree and Daniel Plainview a character unlike any he has ever played is no exception. The actor known for his long breaks between movies and his Method-like transformations is so powerful here that his performance is as responsible for the tone as any of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. Day-Lewis can often be heard delivering diatribes on humanity in There Will Be Blood typically while sporting a devilish grin more disturbing than the film’s most violent scenes. It makes you wonder: Who would even want to go so deep into a character so dark? But the minutiae of Plainview--the walk the demeanor the misanthropy--round out Day-Lewis’ incredible performance more than the spoken words. Young actor Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) is equally intense as Plainview’s pious opponent/lightning rod and maybe more--maybe just maybe his innermost demon. It’s a performance worthy of a Supporting Actor nod but ultimately this is Day-Lewis’ show. There Will Be Blood is the cliché of an auteur fighting for his art as evidenced by its length and obtuseness; otherwise though it is the anti-cliché (and anti-crowd pleaser). For that we can thank--yes thank--Paul Thomas Anderson who as his three other well-known films (Boogie Nights  Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love) hinted was probably dying for a film of this limitless grandeur. While Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s Oil! could be seen as a veiled allegorical wink to modernism it’s really a story about an oilman the money that his oil hath wrought and the demons that swirl around him and his religious detractors. Anderson the genius writer has conjured up a tale of evil family and greed as well as a religiosity/secularism push/pull that is at once opaque and crystal clear. Anderson the genius director frames a story that is beautiful and horrifying neither of which is ever mutually exclusive. The highly deliberate writer-director clearly values quality over quantity and he got both out of this movie an epic masterpiece in a career so young. There Will Be Blood also has this year’s far-and-away best score from Radiohead guitarist/electronics mastermind Jonny Greenwood which fills in any empty spots of weirdness and/or tension left vacant by Anderson and maximizes such spots elsewhere. Anderson now has shot to the No. 1 spot on the Hollywood-outlaw list with this absolute non-adventure of epic proportions. He is utterly unconcerned with any sort of expectations--from audiences or studios. Hell you could even call it a bit of a f-you to everyone except his fans and cinephiles. Congrats PTA!

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