Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running Time: 158 mins
Released: Feb 15th
There will be blood. And there is oil. And there will be blood and oil mixed together as a man’s skull is splintered into fragments as he inspects the well and his face is assaulted by an iron bar descending heavily home. His oil-anointed child is an orphan. And as befits all men of character, conscience and careerism, Daniel Plainview steps in to take charge of both child and well.
The story is ostensibly about America’s oil boom and the men who threw their lives and fortunes on top of the spewing tower of black gold, to varying degrees of success. In microview, the film is about Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis), one of these early adaptors, and his canniness in grappling with the big companies, whilst failing totally to deal with his problems at home. The wolf at the door proves to be part of Plainview’s early fortunes, a duped elder son, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who has ulterior motives of his own. Ultimately, neither men really succeed.
From his first moments on screen as a grunting, desperate man digging a hole to his erudite, affected, and sparkling-eyed speaking debut ten minutes later, Daniel Day Lewis, as Plainview, is riveting. His whole mouthed enunciation of words, his particular gift for affecting a voice so out-of-place among the plainspoken middle Americans he is surrounded by, is a believable gift of vocality, a stirring of jargonized speech, and a wonderment of performance. For all of its bigness and strangeness, Day Lewis attaches Plainview to it, and the character is so much more the better for the voice. Plainview’s speech is almost at odds with Day Lewis’s physical presence; it's as if a wolf and a bear were streamlined into the unwieldy form of a man and found perfect harmony there. Speaking quietly, the most confessional Plainview that the film presents, he admits, simply and transparently, “I don’t like most people.” Later in the film, during the famed “I drink your milkshake” speech, Day Lewis throws his fury to the winds and his rage and his mania, but mostly his bawling, fills the room with its full, roaring, chewing, opulence. Director Paul Thomas Anderson truly had his work cut out for him streaming Day Lewis’ power into such a terrible place.
Paul Dano, as Plainview’s foil, the evangelical Eli Sunday, by contrast, has a low, petulant monotone, effective when making solid statements and, more effective still, when not used at all. His flat face, full of benign fire, is piteous and loathsome, particularly when pitted against Day Lewis’s hawkish and handsome profile. When Sunday is thrown into panic, pain and disgrace by Plainview’s physical attack on him, his true voice rings out, screeching and scraping in its outraged pubescence, and ultimately proving no match for Plainview’s roars.
The film chugs along with a well-oiled sense of purpose, and is accompanied by anxious strings in the soundtrack, providing a fearsome humming wine in moments of high-anxiety, or plucky, staccato rhythms for moments filled with only a modicum of anxiety. Paul Thomas Anderson has produced his most mature work in this film, more emotional than Magnolia for its lack of emotions, more rage-inducing than Punch Drunk Love for all its displays of impotence and power, and more horrifying than Boogie Nights for its displays of cold depravity and whoremongering. There Will Be Blood is not a film that allows for relaxation, even at its ebb, and with Day Lewis as Plainview, bursting with hurt, hope and violence in any given scene, the horny discord provided by the soundtrack tears at the senses as he is seen to bully his way into his own misfortune. By the time the penultimate scene in the bowling alley is cruising along to its conclusion, a degraded Plainview fighting for supremacy in his own home, you are exhilarated as he towers in fury over his opponent, terrified as the assault begins, and hopelessly exhausted as Plainview is deflated and defeated by his actions.
There will be blood. There will be oil. And there should be Oscars.