By Casey Campbell
What more can be said of There Will Be Blood? It’s a modern American classic from one of the best living directors and stars one of the best living actors. The score is nightmarish and shrill from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. The cinematography is stark and natural. It’s pretty much perfect.
While watching this again for maybe the tenth time, and having the rest of my Favorite’s Week watches under my belt, I noticed my proclivity for simple and passionately made films. There Will Be Blood is very simply about an oil baron who lusts for power, while a young pastor attempts to build his own dynasty.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Daniel Plainview, whom we watch from the opening scene toil in the earth in search of oil. The opening of this movie is a mostly dialogue-free visual sequence of storytelling and it’s equal parts exciting and unnerving. Plainview detonates dynamite at the bottom of his makeshift well, unintentionally weakening his ladder and causing him to plummet to the floor and awaken with a broken leg. Despite the leg, Plainview accesses the area and notices dark residue among the exploded rock. He understands what can be gained and painstakingly crawls from the hole in the ground and into a nearby town. All of this is shown in near silent and solitary shots of a despondent looking prospector Plainview, which transitions into shots of him working the same location as before but with a crew of men, and the advent of thick black oil seeping from the ground.
Soon, he fathers an orphan whose father died at the bottom of the oil well, and a voice-over from Plainview chimes in. The orphan is grown, and standing beside his new father, as Daniel Plainview orates at the camera to an unseen group of townspeople. He’s hocking his wares, in a way. To them, he’s selling the promise of a fortune. To him, he’s stealing the subterranean liquid gold from beneath their feet.
In a matter of several shots, director Paul Thomas Anderson develops the central character as one of the best incarnations of the American Dream in cinema. From a hard-working, self-sufficient grime covered miner, to a clean and well-spoken merchant. When we meet Daniel Plainview, the self-made man, the oil man, he’s donning clean pressed clothes and a wide brimmed hat. This directly opposes the man we open the film with: a thick bearded and broken man on a mission for survival and prosperity.
The descent of Daniel Plainview is furthered when he is introduced to the town of Little Boston, by a plain spoken Paul Sunday, played by Paul Dano. Sunday promises a wealth of oil in his family lands, so long as he gets a bit of cash up front. After a bit of interrogation from Plainview and his work partner Fletcher, Sunday divulges his information and goes on his way.
There Will Be Blood is a very visual movie. A lot of the interrogation is informed by the way the actors react with their faces and body language, as opposed to the lines they deliver. It’s why the acting is regularly praised and award winning. It’s the product of a director and actor firing on all cylinders.
For a movie that’s over two-and-a-half hours long, There Will Be Blood seems to fly by. The editing, writing, and selective dialogue all lend to it’s pace. Scenes don’t need to linger to spoon feed information, nor do they unnecessarily show-off the brilliant film making on display. Everything feels perfectly placed and intentionally delivered. And that’s why it’s a modern classic.
There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece, and possibly Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work (depending on who you ask). It’s classical, subdued, and deliciously character driven. Day-Lewis delivers some of my most quoted lines (“Bastard in a basket!” and “I drink your milkshake!”), and the chess match between Plainview and Eli Sunday is a powerhouse to behold.
This is my favorite movie, out of a week of favorite movies. It’s full of subtext, some of which I find blunt, but it’s utterly absorbing. I love the dichotomy of the oil baron and the preacher, both selling lies to make money but with different contexts in the American zeitgeist. It’s a great time. Go watch it.