Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a film of many great moments, but between each of the many sequences that we have com to recognize over the years comes rewarding buildup and those great moments end up feeling much greater. But how exactly do you cover something that appeals to every sense the same way that There Will Be Blood does? For one, it would already be easy enough to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best working American filmmakers, but it’s just amazing to think about how a director of his age can so smoothly transition between completely different points of time and settings and they still feel so distinct under his own vision. You can start off by saying that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our best working filmmakers, because there’s no other working American filmmaker that has established this consistency of making films that always end up becoming the best of their own kind.
In the opening scene, we have the process of drilling oil shown without any dialogue to interrupt it. It is a perfect way to open the film because it already sets the tone of the film on an especially high note with the eerie score by Radiohead’s own Jonny Greenwood (who has since scored all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work), but it is not until Daniel Plainview’s introduction where we know we are in the presence of something greater. In that role of Daniel Plainview is none other than Daniel Day-Lewis, and he leaves behind a presence of an indescribable sort, because the sort of force that he places within the area is akin to that of a god, for you already know that he is not a force to be reckoned with. As people continue feeding into his demands, you only are left to imagine what sort of pressure it is that he is leaving behind in his very own environment – because Paul Thomas Anderson is building this whole world the very way Daniel Plainview would imagine it would, revolving only around himself and his business.
Much like Daniel Plainview himself, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance is truly one for the ages – for not only is it a career best for him but also an all-time great, because it is a character that only needs to be seen in order to be believed. Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t only breathe life into Daniel Plainview, but from the very first moment you see him as he discovers oil within the opening you are only left to believe that he truly is Daniel Plainview. You are in the presence of someone who, as described by himself, is the third revelation. You are in the presence of someone who holds so much power atop everything else within his setting and outright controls his environment despite the many times he contradicts himself. Daniel Day-Lewis has never been better than he already was in the role of Daniel Plainview, because you always feel he forces his way through the scenery, because There Will Be Blood’s narrative is one that is drawn by his own influence.
If there was ever a better way in order to capture the most wondrous aspects of a film like There Will Be Blood, you only need to look at the near wordless opening which already establishes Plainview’s relationships with everyone else so seamlessly. Plainview is a man whose manipulative nature makes clear his greed and how it consumes his own mind, to that point that he already becomes so alien to everyone around him, whether it be family members or his business partners because they are only obstacles to him, obstructing his path to the riches. There Will Be Blood is a film about this greed, the mind of a greedy man, and how this greed ended up consuming an entire world that surrounded Plainview himself. But for every bit as unpleasant as this environment shows itself to be, what makes it so thoroughly engaging is the way in which Paul Thomas Anderson still retains a sense of humanity even in a twisted mind like that of Plainview. Plainview is a man consumed by his own greed, but in order to explore the mind of an individual like himself, what is needed is the establishment of his own sense of humanity and thus we do not see solely evil but a tragic character consumed by evil ways.
The very title of this film is already poetic in itself, because it already is a summary of what it takes in order to form an empire. But everywhere this empire goes, as it builds itself to become as successful as ever only to fall back down onto its knees to the ground, you know that title still sticks with you. Plainview is a man who will do anything to keep himself on the top, even if it will cost the lives of many others along the way, and Plainview is atop everyone else because that is how he sees himself to be. Everywhere you look, blood is always present in both figurative and literal form, but it is not always the sort that spills from violence. It is the sort that is anointed as a means of building Plainview’s own empire, because this is a film all about what it takes in order to consume power everywhere you go. This is a film about the bloodshed that comes along with that journey.
Within the formation of an empire, Plainview’s own faith is being tested by none other than Eli Sunday. Eli, a preacher played by the always reliable Paul Dano, makes clear from his introduction to the screen a clear devotion to his own faith, but next to Plainview what you are going to see is that the two are not really much different from one another. What makes this relationship such a fascinating one is how it presents another allegory that alludes to the way society continues to move forward as a whole. In America, it is greed that consumes the human mind but religious devotion that also forms one’s own ideals. They are not much different from one another, as made clear within a scene in which Plainview is being made to confess his sins, to the point where he is being humiliated in front of another group of people – now with Eli in Plainview’s position. And in Eli’s words, everything is all for the good of his own faith, but what is the extent to which Eli is leading his own followers? In this mirror, you are left to wonder who is more possessed by their sense of power, Sunday or Plainview.
How do you put into words what Paul Thomas Anderson had managed to achieve with There Will Be Blood? For one, it already makes a case for being the director’s most ambitious film because of the very scope to which it carries in itself, both in terms of its scale and the ideals. This is a film about how America’s society has only moved forward and what it has made to its own people, consumed by a sense of power in greed and religion. Perhaps I haven’t been able to say much else that hasn’t already been said before, but it’s so hard to put into words what has been achieved with There Will Be Blood. It is about the formation of an empire, and all the bloodshed that had come along the way, unleashing hell on earth. It puts together everything that is so wonderful about the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, whether it be his ambition or his own sense of dark humour, and it only makes this whole ride feel so satisfying, like that very note to which the film ends on. As Plainview says, “I’m finished.” Watching this film is like witnessing the Third Revelation.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, from Oil! by Upton Sinclair
Produced by JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciarán Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Release Year: 2007
Running Time: 158 minutes