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There Will Be Blood
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Drill Of It All"
5 stars

It has been more than a month since I have seen “There Will Be Blood,” the eagerly awaited new film from Paul Thomas Anderson, the man behind such acclaimed works as “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch Drunk Love,” and I am still reeling from the experience as if I just walked out of the screening five minutes ago. Sprawling yet strangely intimate, this is the kind of wildly ambitious effort that most contemporary filmmakers wouldn’t even have the stones to attempt in the first place, let alone pull off with the kind of seemingly effortless skill that Anderson demonstrates in each and every spellbinding moment of its jumbo-sized 158-minute running time. In a year that has given any number of great works of cinema, this is one of the very best.

Based loosely on Upton Sinclair’s muckraking 1927 novel “Oil!,” “There Will Be Blood” opens in 1898 with a long, essentially dialogue-free sequence as a solitary silver miner by the name of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) undergoes any number of agonies in order to pull valuable bits of metal out from beneath the unyielding earth. A few years later, he has made enough to set up his first oil-drilling operation and while things don’t always go smoothly–a tragic accident early on kills a worker in a particularly nasty manner and leaves behind a child that Plainview adopts–he eventually hits a strike that makes him rich. When we rejoin Plainview in 1911, he has become a full-fledged oilman and spends his time trying to bilk farmers out of their oil-heavy property by portraying himself as the head of a “family business” and even trots out his now-pre-teen “son” H.W. (Dillon Freasier) as his “co-owner” in order to further charm the rubes out of his land. One day, a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) arrives and offers to sell him the location of his family’s goat ranch in the rural California area of New Boston, a place where the land is apparently sitting atop vast resources of oil. At first, the always-suspicious Plainview suspects that he is being had but when he hears of Standard Oil’s interest, he checks out the area for himself and when he finds that it comes as advertised, he buys up virtually all the surrounding land for a song and sets up a series of wells and a pipeline that allow him to control the distribution of the oil as well as the production.

These moves make him a very wealthy man but all is not as simple as it seems. For starters, there is the aggravating presence of Paul’s twin brother Eli (also played by Dano), a charismatic young preacher who forces Plainview to build a new church for the town as part of the deal to buy his family’s land. Blessed with charisma, ambition and a way with words, Plainview and Eli find themselves in an ever-escalating battle for the hearts and minds of the townspeople in which each visits humiliations upon the other that have unexpectedly long and lasting repercussions. Then there is the inescapable fact that Plainview is less the bootstrap-pulling industrialist whose achievements are to be celebrated than a brooding and increasingly deranged misanthrope whose hate-filled mistrust of his fellow man is outstripped only by his greed. As his wealth and power increases, so does his misanthropy and before long, he brutally cuts off the two closest things he has to actual interpersonal relationships–with H.W., whose usefulness as a friendly face in his business dealings is curtailed when an oil rig explosion leaves him deaf, and with a man (Kevin J. O’Connor) who turns up claiming to be Plainview’s half-brother and wanting nothing more than a simple job–so that he can focus on his growing battles with Standard Oil, whose men are attempting to move in on his holdings, and Eli, who has become just as successful as Plainview in his chosen field and with pretty much the same results.

After the jumbo-sized narratives of “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” two films in which Anderson introduced large casts of deeply flawed characters and then forced us to look beyond the surfaces to see the painfully needy people underneath, it may come as a shock to some viewers to find that Anderson is now asking us to spend more than 2 ½ hours in the company of a greedy near-sociopath who only grows more psychotic and alienated as the story progresses because of his mistaken belief that wealth and power are more important for a person to cultivate than simple humanity. And yet, that is exactly what he has done here and while Anderson won’t be winning any awards for subtlety anytime soon–as usual, he shows himself to be the kind of director who is always willing to swing for the fences with every single at-bat–what he has done here is so extraordinary to behold that it is likely that few people are going to complain about its lack of restraint. (After all, complaining about such a thing in a Paul Thomas Anderson film is like going to a buffet and crabbing about there being too much food.) On paper, the story may sound like a blend of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Giant” (perhaps not coincidentally, “There Will Be Blood” was shot in the same Texas town of Marfa where the latter was filmed a half-century earlier) but at it progresses, it becomes a portrait of the darkness of single-minded obsession that is spellbinding to behold.

To convey exactly what he does that is so amazing is difficult to convey in mere words–like the films of Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick (whose respective influences can definitely be felt here), the spell that Anderson weaves needs to be experienced rather than explained. I can tell you that the contributions from cinematographer Robert Elswit and production designer Jack Fisk (a longtime Malick collaborator) are simply astonishing–in a year filled with beautifully photographed films (such as “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), this may be the best-looking one of the bunch and Fisk’s designs are convincing enough to lend an almost tactile sense of reality to the proceedings. I can tell you that the weirdly atonal score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is the most memorable soundtrack to come along in a long time–it doesn’t sound anything like the kind of music that you might normally hear in a story like this but it lends exactly the right sense of menace to the proceedings. I can tell you that Anderson once against demonstrates his facility for conjuring up extended set-pieces that unfold in wildly unpredictable ways–at any given point, a scene can turn into a perfectly timed bit of dark humor (such as the bit when Plainview finds himself on his knees in front of Eli in order to further his own ends), introspective drama (the scenes involving the mysterious half-brother) or nerve-wracking suspense (throughout the film, there are many sequences in which the threat promised in the film’s title seems ready to come to grisly fruition) and they do so in such a subtle and insinuating way that you almost have to see the film again in order to fully appreciate the shifts in tone.

Most of all, I can tell you that “There Will Be Blood” is graced with a lead performance from Daniel Day-Lewis that is destined to instantly go into the books as an all-time classic depiction of the malignancy of a man trapped in the grip of his own demonic obsessions. If you thought his turn as all-around rotter Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York” was one for the ages, his work here as Daniel Plainview is the kind of outsized high-wire act that makes that earlier character look meek and reticent by comparison. With his gruffly stylized manner of speaking (a conscious evoking of John Huston’s Noah Cross, that other great cinematic robber baron) and over-the-top manner, Day Lewis’s work here is just as flamboyant as Anderson’s and offers viewers just as many rewards. And yet, this isn’t merely a scenery-chewing turn for the sake of chewing the scenery–we gradually understand that Plainview’s manner is, to a certain degree, an act that he deploys in order to get what he wants when he wants it. The proof of this comes during the sequence with his half-brother in which he partially lets his guard down and offers up quiet words of introspection that wouldn’t be plausible if the guy were just a total maniac. Simply put, this is the single best performance of Daniel Day-Lewis’s entire career and while I am loathe to suggest that performances are Oscar-worthy, I will simply state that if he doesn’t take home an Oscar for his efforts here, it would be a swindle as grand as any of the ones perpetrated by his character in the film.

And then there is the ending, which has quickly become the most controversial aspect of “There Will Be Blood.” (Don’t worry–I won’t go into any specifics.) In his previous films, Anderson has given us some pretty audacious finales–Mark Wahlberg in front of the mirror in “Boogie Nights,” the rain of frogs in “Magnolia,” Adam Sandler’s epic declaration that he has love in his heart in “Punch Drunk Love”–but nothing will prepare you for what he has in store this time. Set in 1927, we encounter a Plainview who has become the very definition of the old maxim “What profit a man who gains the world but loses his soul?”–unimaginably rich but unmistakably alone and clearly crazy (he appears to be having as much fun with his money in his later years as Howard Hughes did), he prattles around the austere halls of a mansion that looks like the offspring of Xanadu and the Overlook Hotel until he is visited by two faces from the past for reunions that unfold in unexpected ways. Some critics, even those who have otherwise liked the rest of the film, have complained about this epilogue by saying that it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the story. This boggles the mind because what occurs in this sequence is the logical extension of what the entire story has been leading up to and to not include it would be to simply destroy much of the ultimate impact of the film as a whole. Even if you don’t fully accept it as a integral part of the story, it can still be appreciated simply as a bit of filmmaking unto itself–it is beautifully acted, impeccably written and put together so beautifully that you want to applaud at how well all the pieces have come together. Best of all, it concludes with a final declaration that may well be the greatest final two words spoken in a film since Joe E. Brown looked at Jack Lemmon at the end of “Some Like It Hot” and remarked “Nobody’s perfect.”

“There Will Be Blood” is a true American epic in every sense of the word–the kind of film that people will be analyzing and admiring for as long as people will continue to do such things. Furthermore, it automatically launches Paul Thomas Anderson from his position as one of the best filmmakers working today to a place alongside the likes of Welles, Kubrick, Scorsese and Altman as one of the all-time greats. This may sound like a slightly absurd bit of overpraise–this is only his fifth movie, after all–but after watching every single hypnotic moment of what he has given us this time around, I can’t imagine anyone out there who would be willing to argue otherwise in the face of this masterpiece

I’m finished.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16674&reviewer=389
originally posted: 01/04/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.

User Comments

6/18/15 stanley welles a towering, tour de-force display in cinematic virtuosity 5 stars
12/09/12 Simon sprawling, an art piece, an acting tour-de-force, all the nuance&power a modern movie can b 5 stars
3/28/11 lesterwink23 Spectacular...DDL's Plainview belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of film performances 5 stars
2/21/11 Bert What an awful movie. 1 stars
7/15/10 ES Ugh... this started off so good and went to crap so fast. What a disappointment 2 stars
4/09/10 brian I wanted to take my eyes off of it but couldn't. Day-Lewis is great, as always. 4 stars
3/15/10 king kong a truly awesome film 5 stars
12/15/09 girl there will be milkshakes 5 stars
11/28/09 Jeff Wilder Day-Lewis is superb and the film is well-made. Easy movie to admire but a hard one to love. 4 stars
3/02/09 Sully epic 5 stars
2/23/09 Anonymous. this movie is crazy great. 5 stars
2/08/09 Samantha Pruitt really great acting, slow and builds up at the end! 4 stars
1/31/09 D Every single frame is mesmerizing....incredible work of art 5 stars
1/07/09 Haley Leggitt the comment under mine is dead wrong. this was an incredible film. 5 stars
12/06/08 Jack Sommersby Contextless, dramatically-obvious & laughably self-indulgent. 1 stars
12/05/08 K. Sear Phenomenally fractured. 3 stars
11/04/08 Lindsey worth more than just a watch. more like a few watches. :] 5 stars
9/17/08 Phil I. Drink. Your. Milkshake! 4 stars
8/29/08 Shaun Wallner The storyline is well made! 4 stars
6/08/08 AnnieG Perhaps better if you had read the book, but film is almost all atmosphere 2 stars
5/13/08 allen good movie 4 stars
5/05/08 S. K. Marion A briliantly acted/directed/scored morality play-A Greed driven Cain kills Abel again! 4 stars
5/04/08 Justin I think you need to apologise to PTA 5 stars
4/17/08 The Talking Elbow Really overrated but worth watching 3 stars
4/17/08 Krystyna The first guy who reviewed this movie said it better than anyone: "THIS FILM BLOWS" 1 stars
4/17/08 styace dumb ending or maybe i just dont get it? 4 stars
4/12/08 Gr As the Ratings Say - 4 stars = worth a watch 4 stars
4/03/08 Greets A solid, accomplished film, yet lacking a certain something... 4 stars
3/20/08 niki greatness allready had a name: PTA & DDL, now add to that list: TWBB.More power to it! 5 stars
3/18/08 Muralee Thummarukudy I feel sick reading this review. I saw this movie, which was so slow and stupid. 1 stars
3/16/08 damalc mostly boring except for Day-Lewis, brilliant as usual 3 stars
3/16/08 Danny Maybe the worst film ending of all time! 2 stars
3/14/08 Random Plainview's outburst of violence set against the Brahms Violin Concerto was haunting. 4 stars
3/02/08 ladavies this movie could have been a classic. it has some overacting and script issues. 4 stars
3/01/08 Catherine HERVIEU Great settings, atmosphere, acting even if Daniel is a bit overacting , the story plot is 4 stars
2/28/08 Monday Morning Big but slow 3 stars
2/18/08 Greg This movie is unbelievably over-rated. I really can't believe all the good press! 1 stars
2/14/08 Joe Too bad there was no story. found oil, bought land, got old, killed a guy, The End 2 stars
2/14/08 Jefenator The epilogue was melodramatic and redundant. But the first 3/4 was tight and DDL was superb 4 stars
2/10/08 zenshark Who knew they still made movies like this? 5 stars
2/06/08 R.W.Welch Maybe the best one-man show since Patton. Pacing a tad deliberate. 4 stars
2/05/08 Marge Plainview is the devil incaarnate. Lewis is a genius. 5 stars
2/04/08 Paul Shortt Exquisite motion picture 5 stars
2/03/08 Lone Wolf Most powerful movie of my lifetime. Left me completely drained. Draaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaainge! 5 stars
2/01/08 Daniel Plainview This movie drinks your milkshake. 5 stars
2/01/08 Quigley Great acting by Lewis and superb direction by Anderson but it didn't have enough of a story 4 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic A brilliantly and technically marvellous movie 5 stars
1/26/08 zanna If you didn't like, you're braindead 5 stars
1/24/08 Ramzi Abed Truly awe-inspiring. Worthy of all the praise. Anderson should win an Oscar for directing! 5 stars
1/23/08 b bobble genious, beatiful, orighinal, etc..... 5 stars
1/21/08 Ole Man Bourbon Entertaining movie. It's very figurative, which can be challenging, but it adds to the fun 4 stars
1/21/08 Servo I was blown away by Lewis' performance, the movie itself ... not so much. 3 stars
1/18/08 Mike Wow! Brilliant movie! 5 stars
1/18/08 Freddy SUCKS! What a waste of time! 1 stars
1/16/08 Buttley Brillant. 5 stars
1/13/08 jim SUX 1 stars
1/13/08 curtis this picture assembly is a mess, beautiful in spots, a la Cold Mountain and Gangs of NY etc 2 stars
1/12/08 peter not a real character in it. horrible. praise is "the emperor's new clothes" 1 stars
1/04/08 jordan actually fred you're wrong, this movie is incredible. great review. 5 stars
12/30/07 wabster this movie lacks a "message" in terms of reality. in other words, it 's not meaningful 4 stars
12/30/07 fred g. sanford this film blows 1 stars
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  26-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



Directed by
  Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by
  Paul Thomas Anderson

  Daniel Day-Lewis
  Paul Dano
  Ciarán Hinds

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