Film: There Will Be Blood
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis
Runtime: 158 mins
Rating: * * * * *
I warn you now; you will not like any of the characters in this epic tale, where we see, one by one, souls defiled by the lust for oil. It is strikingly original, but such an unflinching examination of human depravity can be hard to endure. There Will Be Blood charts the consummate greed and hate of Daniel Day-Lewis’ misanthropic oil prospector. In the early 1900’s, Daniel Plainview approaches the arid village of Little Boston and buys all the land he can get his oily hands on. Plainview is a salesman – ‘an oilman’ as he likes to remind his customers, sporting a tight-fitting suit and oiled moustache. He is the epitome of rapacious capitalism. Plainview’s nemesis comes in the form of Eli – Little Boston’s evangelical preacher – whose hunger for power clashes with Plainview’s.
The creepy Eli is portrayed brilliantly by Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano. It is the scenes between Plainview and Eli that most electrify; an unspoken hatred boils between them. From the outset both see one another for what they really are – Eli a false prophet, and Plainview an out-and-out villain. Little is explained about the characters’ motivations or thoughts; we pick up what we can from the revealing acting – Plainview’s eyes glinting with greed, Eli’s smug but scared mannerisms as his grip over Little Boston slips away from him. The few scenes of tenderness between Plainview and his adopted son are truly heartfelt, and make his later bouts of aggression all the more alarming. For 160 minutes the camera rarely leaves Plainview’s side. We watch with baited breath as he slowly rots to the core, the transformation from mannerly to monstrous seamless, an intensely disturbing performance from Day-Lewis.
The breathtaking cinematography sees the camera sweep across the expansive, barren landscapes of California, punctuated with striking set pieces. We are enticed by the oil drilling, as jets of oil pummel the air, ramparts shatter and blazing flumes light up the arid land. The soundtrack (from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood), is assured, dragging this historic tale into the 21st century. The ominous humming and throbbing of Greenwood’s haunting score follows Plainview wherever he goes. However, P.T. Anderson drags his feet in areas; sometimes the long brooding scenes add to the impending unease, while at others it feels overdrawn.
P.T. Anderson is often dubbed as the bright young hope of Hollywood; the ambitious auteur who brought us the bombast of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. His work has been praised and abhorred in equal measure, as this will be. Audiences will be split and opinions will ultimately be determined by the outrageous finale, an explosive climax of Plainview’s hatred for mankind.
There Will Be Blood raises many questions regarding morality, religion, power, fatherhood, wealth and madness. Anderson offers us few answers, but a lot to mull over. A fascinating and ultimately, terrifying character study. How much you enjoy it though, depends on just how much you enjoy watching a sinking ship.