There Will Be Blood – 2007 – dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
A film such as There Will Be Blood only comes around every decade or so. It is a picture that transcends the contemporary (and often times, overemphasized) allusions to current issues, eventually revealing the true heroics of man. Usually, films such as these relish in the battle of man with the world around him. This time, Paul Thomas Anderson has taken a step back, graciously inviting his audience to participate in his fantastic allusion. There Will be Blood is our modern American epic. Already resonating with films such as Citizen Kane, the personal psychology has an intrinsic connection with today’s audience. All corporate evil aside, this is film is about competition. To go even farther, There Will Be Blood is an objective look at the driving force of ambition, and the right of man to climb to the top, however he may get there. It all starts with Daniel Plainview.
Adapting the screenplay from Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!,” P. T. Anderson (former protégé of the late, great Robert Altman) has updated the classic McCabe & Ms. Miller period piece to an entirely new plane of thought. Rather than Anderson’s usual ensemble cast of Hollywood talent, (another trademark of Altman) and the various stories intertwining throughout the tale, the young director puts his intricate narrative web aside and leaves his fantastic craft of character in the hands of one man. Before all hell breaks lose, Anderson’s penetrating portrayal of one of America’s earliest oil men is assumed by one of Hollywood’s most gifted actors. Igniting the kindred flame of wealth and power is Daniel Day Lewis, whose rigorous portrayal of Daniel Plainview is nothing short of history in the world of cinema. The implications of ambition are so rarely tackled so meticulously; who better to bear the weight of the 20th century dream? Plainview is the ultimate teammate, entirely consumed by a game to which he knows all the moves and of which he assumes the role of both starting all-star and head coach. To his rival’s dismay, Plainview is incapable of mercy; for sympathy, morals and rest have no place in the world of competition.
Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is the only one foolish enough to attempt any opposition to Plainview. While under the visage of an entirely different set of tactics, Eli will only allow Plainview to drill if he agrees to fund his church: “That’s good, that’s a good one.” Dano (Eli) pushes his acting talents to the extreme to balance Lewis’ unstoppable force in his practice and expansion of the small town Evangelism that would soon rise from the mid-west. Playing off of Plainview’s offense, Sunday rallies his congregation on the sidelines, unconditionally attached to the progress of “Little Boston” – the town that can barely grow anything beside potatoes. While the Preacher puts on a few spectacles of his own, his game plan is an insult to Plainview’s vision of progress. This is illustrated in his inspirational (and most beautifully sequenced) promise of irrigation and eventual cultivation, under the firm belief that “it’s an abomination to consider that any man, woman or child in this magnificent country of ours should have to look upon a loaf of bread as a luxury.” The battle between the real and the ethereal plunges onward, with a final act that can never be forgotten.
While there is no doubt that what is seen on the screen drives the story home, Johnny Greenwood’s score certainly delivers a gracious crescendo that becomes a character of its own across the dreary landscape. Both avant-garde and eerily independent, the singular tones of Greenwood’s score are something unmatched (or ever really tried) in any other Hollywood film. As if speaking for the characters in a twisted interior monologue, the music provides a voice for the chaotic descent into the depths of the all-consuming quest for power. Some songs even provide a literal vessel for the emotion that is lost with the voice of Plainview’s son (an orphan who serves as a poster boy to project the idea of a wholesome family business). Through biting metaphor, the silent voice of the future generation haunts the picture’s edgy finale, portraying a warped sense of family as something Plainview sees as both vulnerability and vicious paranoia. Greenwood’s score truly depicts the film for exactly what it is: A piece of art.
What you have in There Will be Blood is a relic. Although the film is only three years old, its contemporary overtones, developed through elegant writing and unmatchable acting talent, deliver a classic portrayal of early American values. There Will Be Blood is an instant masterpiece. A work of art so astute in its writing, delivery, and tone, that its spectacle is a quintessential mirror of society at large. I take back the earlier designation of an American epic. This is the American Dream. Better yet, this is just plain America. It is a view of capitalism so apparent in the reflection of the dark crude, its unmistakably vivid. As for the title, there’s very little actual blood in the film; however, perhaps Anderson is foreshadowing the growing prices of oil from a historical point of view. Maybe someday the price of oil will become much more substantial. Perhaps in the future there will be blood.