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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood

By Kyle Barrett • July 19th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Miramax Films

Original release: December 26th, 2007
Running time: 158 minutes

Writer & Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Composer: Jonny Greenwood

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciaran Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to take risks. After creating two large, multi-narrative films, Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999), he stripped back somewhat for the immensely charming and brilliant Punch-Drunk Love (2002), a vehicle for Adam Sandler, which baffled some who believed he was selling out. When the film was released, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief as the film, in Anderson’s words, was an, “Art-house Adam Sandler movie”.

Reflecting the cinema of Jacques Tati, Anderson was growing in his style, becoming more experimental. The fast edits and whizzing camerawork of both Boogie Nights and Magnolia were somewhat absent from Punch-Drunk Love, though his love for long-takes were still present. Nevertheless, it still looked and felt like an Anderson film, regardless that he was attempting something different.

After five years, Anderson returned with There Will Be Blood, a complete departure from his old ways. What he gave us was a sombre, mature film that took it’s time to explore a small group of characters, chiefly oil baron Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he descends into madness in the early 20th century. While some may pine for Anderson’s grand, multi-narratives, lovers of his work, and of cinema, can’t doubt that this was his grand opus, even though he scaled right back.

We meet Plainview as a silver prospector in the late 19th century. The first 17 minutes of the film has no dialogue, save from a few murmurs and mumbles in the background. We learn everything we need to know about this character during this time. Plainview is relentless to get what he wants and even after falling down a shaft, breaking his leg, he still manages to get all the silver he needs. As he sells his findings, he keeps a close eye on the buyers from the floor, a shotgun by his side. When he starts to dig for oil, he gradually becomes wealthier, hiring more and more men to help him in his endeavours.

There Will Be Blood

After an accident that leaves one of his men dead, he adopts the man’s son and renames him HW. Years pass and with the first line of dialogue, “Ladies and gentleman, I’ve travelled over half our state to be here tonight” we see that Plainview has developed a slick tongue so he can purchase land off of small-town communities to make a fortune off of the oil beneath the surface. With the now older HW, he’s able to put a family image to his company, taking further advantage of simple folk. When a young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), approaches Plainview about a possible oil sighting, he sets out to Little Boston where he encounters the rest of Paul’s family, including his twin brother Eli. Eli, the town’s self-proclaimed vessel for the Holy Spirit and evangelical priest begins a battle of wills with Plainview as they both come to realise they’re just as slimy as each other.

With the grudge match set in place, Anderson starts to focus on Plainview’s relationship with HW. We’re left to our own devices to decide whether or not he truly cares for his adopted son, or he was just using him as a cute face. There are moments where Plainview does care for HW but after an accident at an oil rig, the film’s main set piece, HW is rendered deaf and therefore useless in Plainview’s business. He sends the boy away to get treatment and then focuses his attention on both battling Eli and buying up as much of the town as he can. When a man called Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor) appears, claiming to be Plainview’s brother, a different relationship starts. Plainview admits, in one of the film’s most chilling scenes, that he can’t stand humanity and sees nothing worth liking. After meeting with another oil company who wants to make him rich, Plainview threatens to cut one of the representative’s throats for asking about HW. His ruthlessness and contempt for his fellow man drives the rest of the narrative until the now infamous climax between himself and Eli, invoking the, “I drink your milkshake!” speech which has become somewhat of a catchphrase.

In terms of Anderson’s direction, it’s flawless. The camera, though slower than his previous efforts, still moves constantly throughout, taking us with Plainview. The camera is another character. If we say that Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Jonathan Demme are the biggest influences on Boogie Nights and Magnolia, then Stanley Kubrick and John There Will Be BloodHuston are most evident here. Anderson reportedly watched The Treasure Of Sierra Madre (1948) every night before falling asleep as he was working on this film. Aided by Robert Elswit’s brilliant cinematography, and Jack Fisk’s impeccable production design, Anderson was keeping the sense and style of classic Hollywood cinema of the ‘40s and ‘50s. There are easy comparisons to Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), aided by Jonny Greenwood’s terrific haunting score, reflecting the works of experimental composer Krzysztof Penderecki whose work was used in The Shining.

Day-Lewis gives one of his best performances, if not the best, and created a complex, deeply flawed character. Dano holds his own as Eli. He’s one of the best actors of his generation and being able to play off Day-Lewis and still stand out is no mean feat. The other great discovery is Freasier, invoking the innocence of HW but able to project a sense of maturity that he knows how to handle himself and is savvy to his father’s mischievous ploys. O’Connor, an always reliable character actor, is given a decent supporting role that should have been given more time. If the flaws in the film are to be found, it’s with the character of Henry who’s given only a small amount of screen time. However, he does serve his purpose as he helps push Plainview over the edge.

In an age of comic-book movies where mainstream Hollywood movies are comfortable with their good guy, bad guy moulds, it’s refreshing that a film like There Will Be Blood to examine characters that aren’t sympathetic. The film is riddled with antagonists. The only sympathetic character is HW and after his use for Plainview is over, he recedes into the background. We’re left with Plainview and Eli, both challenging characters. For me, this is a personal favourite of all of Anderson’s work. It reflects a maturing filmmaker, who’s continuing to experiment with his style, examining different themes yet maintaining his artistic identity. The performances are outstanding, the direction superb and the score equally as impressive as everything else. There Will Be Blood is truly a masterpiece.

There Will Be Blood

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett is a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland. His research focuses on digital film-making and current developments within national cinemas. He also writes and directs several short films and is currently working on the web series Ferocious Bloodaxe.

He also lectures and tutors on practical filmmaking classes.

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