There Will Be Blood - A Dark Cinematic Tale of Greed

                       Daniel Plainview climbs down a ladder and takes us inside a small, suffocating hole at his small silver mine. Plainview discovers what he's looking for but an accident injures his leg. Unshaken, he slides on his back, pushing himself along with his good leg, as the camera pans out over miles of deserted, scrubby Western terrain. He’s filthy, miserable, gasping for breath and life. The year is 1898. After Two and a half hours , and more than thirty years later in the time span of the film, he’s on the floor again, this time sitting on a polished bowling lane in his enormous mansion. Yet he’s still filthy, with dirty hands and a face. The experienced chronicle between these two moments is as astounding in its emotional force and as haunting and mysterious as anything seen in American movies.

                        There Will be Blood is writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning epic about the dawn of the American oil business. And it is a masterpiece. That doesn't mean it's easy to watch. Before an image hits the screen, a rising, unkeyed string note assaults the viewer’s ears, immediately inducing a feeling of unease - if not actual nausea. You watch it, think about it for a day or two, and will realize that it’s perfect. It won’t come to you immediately, that it is a masterpiece.

        Based loosely on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” “There Will Be Blood” opens in 1898, with Daniel in a deep shaft below the desert floor, scrabbling away at the rock like an animal. For the first twenty minutes there is no dialogue, just grunts and the sounds of digging, explosion, splintering wood, and a cry of pain. 

               Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a crusty prospector who learns the oil business by accident, and who suffers more accidents along the way. By 1902 Plainview is traveling the West, drilling for oil. He is accompanied by his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier), inherited as a baby when the boy’s father is killed in a drilling accident. One day, a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) arrives and offers to sell him the location of his family’s goat ranch in the rural California area. It is a place where the land is apparently sitting atop vast resources of oil. He checks out the area for himself and buys out virtually all the surrounding land sets up a series of wells and a pipeline that allow him to control the distribution of the oil as well as the production.

               Plainview finds that he has made a deal not just with the hick town people, but with their fire-and-brimstone church and its charismatic young preacher, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), Paul's twin brother. That's a problem. Eli's onto Plainview and Plainview is onto Eli - they are competing for people, and for souls. And in him, Plainview has met his match, a man every bit as striving and slippery as himself. It becomes a lifelong struggle between them.

                As portrayed by Day-Lewis, Daniel Plainview is one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. Never once in 158 minutes does Plainview smile at anything that doesn't bring him profit. Every fidget, every twitch, every spark that dances in his dangerous eyes and every tooth bared by his dangerous smile, tells who he is. The hunch of his shoulders, his walk the startling ferocity of his bursts of violence makes this movie, a monumental achievement. 

              Paul Dano's voice as Eli is like a whiny, cracking instrument that would seem no match for Day-Lewis' commanding baritone. Yet Eli is as persistent in his quest to build his church as Plainview is to build his fortune. Dano excels at this role because we have been conditioned to trust angelic-looking teenagers instead of fearing them. He, too, feeds on the power and adoration his congregation gives him, something we become all too aware of in a baptism scene. 

              Director Anderson digs deep into the sources of one of American society's recurrent problems, capitalism and free enterprise at their nastiest and greediest form. However, as a study of a uniquely American character, a monstrous, merciless, egomaniac man, seeking riches, power and fame at all expense, “There Will Be Blood” is Anderson's take on Orson Welles' “Citizen Kane.” Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit combines meticulously stunning landscape shots, bravura long takes, and thrilling tracking shots with the kind of intimate close-up examination that reveals the thoughts and emotions as registered on Day-Lewis magnificently expressive and handsome face. He also lets the action build, slowly yet steadily, like the slow ascent to the top of a roller coaster.

              The movie, which cost a relatively cheap twenty-five million dollars to make, has gravity and weight without being cheap; it is austerely magnificent, and, when violence comes—an exploding oil well, a fight—it’s staged cleanly, in open space, and not as an outburst of digital effects

              It is a hard movie, hard in the sense of lack of softness. There are virtually no women to gentle it. Its milieu is rough and grimy. There Will Be Blood is one of cinema’s grandest character studies, the portrait of a man obsessed with anger and suspicion, and where it takes him, and us with him.



Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

This pending is long due now in my list of my films. Will watch it soon and get back :)

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Another invigorating review of an intriguing masterpiece. There Will Be Blood is one of my all time favorite American movies. It's brilliant, belligerent and brutal and that's what gives it the raw power that a cineste deserves and desires. The comparison that you have made to Welles' Citizen Kane is both apt and refreshing. Paul Thomas Anderson used to make his entire team watch John Hoston's The Treasure of Sierra Madre again again to help them get into the right sort of a mood needed to film a tale of greed and obsession.

Also, I had written a review of There Will Be Blood some time back which can be read at:

Arun Kumar said...

@Haricharan, Thank you for commenting. It's a must watch for movie-lovers.

@Murtaza Ali, Thank You. Yeah, 'Treasure of Sierra Madre' another wonderful tale about greed, and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance looks very much like John Houston.