Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood’ tells a nightmarish tale of greed and envy set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The film is a brilliant and gorgeous exploration of America’s two pillars: oil and religion, through the eyes of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) a not-so-nice oil entrepreneur. It follows his story of success and his damnation by navigating through rich, intense scenes filled with a myriad of interesting characters and some stunning cinematography that conjures an infernal for the audience to get lost in.
The dialogue-free opening scene, set against a buzzing background score, creates a powerful introduction to the film that hooks the audience almost immediately. It takes almost 11 and a half minutes for the first dialogue to appear, but there’s no compromise in the level of entertainment that the scene provides. The audience is stuck almost immediately. In the first scene itself, the film establishes the overarching theme: American capitalism, which it goes on to highlight throughout. There will be only one winner; and for there to be a winner, there must be a loser. Hence, there will be blood. Oil and blood.
The writing is masterfully done. The characters, the dialogues capture the essence of the plot, the story perfectly. Plainview’s character is intriguing if that’s the correct word. Following the death of a man in the first scene, Plainview takes the man’s child as his own but also blends whiskey into the child’s milk just to stop the balling. The adoption is compassion and calculation. The child eventually grows to become Plainview’s partner, H.W. (Dillion Freasier). But he eventually loses interest in him after H.W. loses his hearing in an accident. Plainview essentially lacks humanism. He hates all met, and therefore himself. He is solely driven by the greed of money as he sucks it out of the Little Boston community. The film is like watching an inescapable natural disaster: you know it isn’t going to end well but it’s the foreshadowing by the so many scenes of terror, poignancy, ruthlessness and echoing whispers that you can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen that would make the story go that way.
Anderson has done brilliantly in his role. The film is more than Plainview buying lands and setting up minefields in Little Boston, it is not a story that says less about the materialistic gains but more about the constant tension and lies behind it. It is what roils beneath the surface, the iceberg beneath the ocean. As Plainview’s ventures grow, he gets into escalating feuds with a young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the God to his Mammon and he replaces his ‘son’ H.W. with his half-brother (Kevin J. O’Connor), a relationship which is no more desirable. The film inherits a constant intensity, a constant tension while exploring the early days of the oil industry – the danger, the mystery, its limitless possibilities – with Daniel and his men scratching the surface of the Earth with primitive tools as if chefs trying to cook Beef bourguignon with just spoons and knives. When they finally scratch through and find what they’re looking for it results in a catastrophic gushing of oil that is eventually set ablaze and wreaks destructions.
The performances throughout the film are brilliant, to say the least. Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Dillion Freasier have all given justice to their characters. The standout, however, is definitely Daniel Day-Lewis as Plainview. His performance truly deserved the Oscar. Like his previous roles (as in Gangs of New York or Lincoln) he has created another iconic and original character. His voice is coarse and deep while still maintaining a form of precision. From his weathered body to his pale eyes, his character that lacks humanism, Daniel Day-Lewis has perfected it. You should not have any doubts that will lead you to question what his character is: he is literally something that has climbed out of the hole.
The beautiful cinematography by Robert Elswit is beautifully complemented by the eerie, haunting, and powerful background score by Jonny Greenwood, which elevates this film even further.
The only downside, for me, in this film was the final act, the end of the film. Yes, there are many who’d argue saying it was a worthy end to a brilliant film but I personally don’t agree. It felt a bit rushed towards the end as if Anderon suddenly loosened his grip. Multiple sub-plots and psychological developments are brusquely ended. I just wish the film could have taken those 15 more minutes to do justice to what would’ve been an absolute masterpiece.
However, all in all, Anderson’s film is still no short from an extraordinary piece of art. ‘There will be blood’ indulges itself in pleasures that are unapologetically aesthetic while it excites, disturbs, stimulates, and shocks the audience but still leaves its interpretation to us. You should not miss it.
Aman’s Score – Aryamaan’s Score – 86/100