Meet Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), a successful, hard working oil prospector who loves his only son. Underneath this wholesome exterior lingers something a lot more sinister, a twisted heart fuelled by greed and a craving for supremacy. Plainview is a complex, nuanced and utterly malevolent character; the blood that flows through his veins is as black as the substance he mines for. Meet Daniel Plainview, the devil incarnate.
The opening of the film sees Daniel starting out as silver prospector in 1898 and continues all the way up until he is an accomplished ‘oil man’ in 1911. There is no dialogue whatsoever in the first quarter of an hour or so, as Daniel risks life and limb to harvest treasures from the earth. Take this time to marvel at the extent of one man’s lonely obsession: this astonishing opening sequence really is reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey - minus the intelligent apes. It’s not surprising then that indie darling Paul Thomas Anderson has been likened to a modern day Kubrick, his meticulous direction can be sensed from the off. Not since David Fincher’s Zodiac has a director’s presence felt so compelling and authoritative.
There Will Be Blood unravels in a desolate wasteland called Little Boston in California. After a tip-off about oil rich land, Plainview and son travel to the sleepy town in search of that precious black commodity and start drilling. Soon enough Daniel begins to buy up the town piece by piece promising prosperity, infrastructure and education to the town’s folk. All is well for Plainview until he encounters something he simply can’t comprehend - religion. Enter Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the young, self proclaimed faith healer who cleanses Little Boston of its demons and is seen as something of a prophet within the community. Eli is weary of Daniel, and is the only member of the town willing to confront him with his own agenda. Needless to say, religion does not fit into Plainview’s plans for the town and a violent clash between faith and modernisation ensues. One particularly memorable scene finds Eli furiously baptising Plainview, the oil baron repeatedly screaming: 'I am a sinner'.
Day-Lewis’ Plainview is refined but coarse, temperate yet imposing, and he commands your attention. Again, the reclusive Day-Lewis comes out of exile to deliver a scorching performance, not since Bill the Butcher has the screen seen such iconic menace. Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) also excels as the creepy religious fanatic and more than holds his own against Day-Lewis which is no mean feat. The cinematography compliments the subject matter perfectly as the bleak, sun scorched landscapes immerse the screen. Watch out for a shot that sees Daniel nestled by a camp fire, the camera slowly panning towards him, the flames reflecting off his face... A man-devil.
Special mention must go to Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead who has composed a truly awe inspiring soundtrack that is like nothing you’ve heard before...at least not in a multiplex. There Will Be Blood is a sprawling epic that deserves the high praise it is garnering. Overlooking a few pacing issues which result in a flabby middle, this is a definite contender for best film of 2007. There Will be Blood? Come Oscar night, there will be one winner.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey ** Is there a more frustrating director working today than Paul Thomas Anderson? The man clearly has talent as he's partially demonstrated in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but his apparent refusal to edit anything just undermines the good work. On the plus side, There Will Be Blood is never boring — there's far too much noisy scenery chewing going on for that to be the case — but 158 minutes to deliver what is, ostensibly, an art-house Dallas? Ridiculous. Christ, you even have to suffer a five minute plus scene of Plainview travelling to a neighbour only to find he's out! What's the point of that? And yet the world continues to blow smoke up Anderson's overrated, edit-free arse.
If Day-Lewis wins the Oscar it will be final proof that the Academy doesn't have a fucking clue. The name of the award is best acting: it's not best shouting or best pointless facial tics which is what Anderson lets DDL get away with far too often. For the most part he sounds like Sean Connery anyway, which is slightly bizarre. Then when he starts sucking his teeth in a gesture clearly intended to show intelligent contemplation, or possibly inner turmoil or, indeed, abject evil, he just looks like Popeye. Popeye channelling Sean Connery? Oh yeah, that's worth an Oscar...
Every now and again, Day Lewis hits the heights we know he's capable of. The final line, delivered slumped in a scene foretold by the title, is devastating. The 'I am a sinner' scene mentioned above is mesmerising. And then he pulls that face, alternates between a whisper and eardrum-punishing volume in a single sentence, and you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Plainview's decline into paranoia or evil or whatever it may be is never convincing in the slightest. He just comes across as demented, noisy and a bit of a twat. Dano does a good job, occasionally stealing scenes while Day-Lewis is busy picking bits of scenery from his teeth, but even he ends up mostly doing 'actor' things rather than just acting.
There is a powerful story here, and a potentially first rate film but, like Plainview's oil fortune, you've got to dig through a lot of crap to find it. The most overrated film of the century.
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• There Will Be Blood at IMDb