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Movie Reviews

There Will Be Blood



Released: 26th December 2007

Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Matt Chandler

I don’t know what took me so long to see this, but I just watched There Will Be Blood. It is quite a film. Daniel Day Lewis was Daniel Plainview for two and a half hours, and as much as his performance stole the show, I was shocked by Paul Dano’s equally maniacal performance as Eli Sunday. It’s tough to take your eyes off either actor in the throes of their respective craziness, and since many scenes find them crossing paths, it’s an entertaining ride.

(This review goes beyond spoiler alert, and more into the territory of assuming that I’m the only person in the world who had NOT seen the movie.)

For all his cut-throat greed, we don’t really know what drives Plainview. You want to think (pessimistically) that he has some redeeming qualities, but those are expectedly quashed in the final two scenes with his deaf adopted son and then Eli.

Was that opening in the silver mine meant to show how far Plainview would painfully crawl on a broken leg just to get his paws on some money? Or to demonstrate the trials and tribulations he experienced early on that shaped his disdain for people? I don’t know. Either way, he hates everyone despite the fact that the audience doesn’t see him getting manipulated or hurt by anyone. He does the manipulating. He screws people over.

I’ve come to the conclusion that while Plainview certainly started out selfish and hell-bent on his fortune, his true contempt for humanity came from seeing Eli Sunday take advantage of people in similar ways as himself. Plainview readily admits he likes seeing other people fail, but it’s not limited to the oil business. When Eli stands in his path, Plainview views him like a piece of property. The problem is Eli’s not an easy read, and is a formidable mental opponent for most of the film. (Side note- I know Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love) writes movies that are anything but one dimensional. Plus, There Will Be Blood is a little too over the top not to be an allegory for something, so I don’t feel too bad analyzing it, which I normally find stupid.) As we quickly see, moving up the ladder from silver to oil is bigger all around: accidents are deadlier, more people are involved, more land is needed, and most importantly, more money is made. I’m not too sure if the oil money made Plainview crazier or if he was always crazy and finally had the resources to really cut loose.

From the standpoint of creating an “oil town,” for the screen, this movie deserves a lot of credit. Sure There Will Be Blood is about the central characters, but the location, sets, and costumes are so good they merit mention because they push the film from good to great. I wasn’t sure how oil tycoons did it in the early 20thcentury, but the production definitely transports you to a different era. What I did know, and it has been reaffirmed, is that people back then were dirty all the time.

Acting, though, steals the show. The ending is already legendary (I was waiting for the “milkshake” spiel the entire movie), but my favorite moment is right after Plainview’s fake brother pleads with him: “Daniel, I’m your friend. I’m not trying to hurt you ever.”  The camera flashes to Daniel Day Lewis’ face to show possibly the angriest/most appalled look ever captured on screen—there is no reasoning with this man. A close second is Plainview going from groggily hung-over to furious while being slapped around by Eli, keeping it together just long enough to be “baptized” and get his land.

I was about to read Oil! to best write this review, but the editors put me on a short time constraint. From what I’ve gathered the movie’s only very loosely based on the book, which may or may not be about oil. I think this film stands on its own as incredibly unique, but I couldn’t help comparing it to one of my all time favorites, No Country For Old Men. Not only because they were written and directed by great filmmakers and both came out in the same year, but also because the central character in both is inhumanely evil. Each performance earned their respective Oscars for good reason. However, while the two films present humanity at its bleakest, they do it in very different ways: the Coen Bros. crafted a tightly wound story around a few days in the 1980s; Anderson’s film chronicles several decades in the early parts of the twentieth century.

It’s difficult to compare quality when the projects are so different, but I agree with the Best Pic. Oscar going to the Coens for a couple of reasons, mostly pure personal choice: While it was impossible to understand Anton Chigur, No Country was stuffed with characters you were rooting for. Plainview was tough to relate to in many, many ways, and since he was on screen the entire time I found the movie very slightly less engaging. Second, it’s a tough sell for me to really enjoy big scale epic movies. I think it’s much harder to pull off a perfect movie that aims for as massive a scope as There Will Be Blood. This was about as good an epic as I have seen, but I felt like pieces of story were missing that kept the movie from cracking my top ten.

Anderson reached for brilliance with There Will Be Blood, and even if he came up a bit short, he created one of the best films of the last decade.

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