Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Premise: Adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! Speculator Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) builds an oil empire throughout Texas in the early 1900s. As his success grows, Plainview becomes increasingly more competitive and his greed and his ambition to drive all competition into the ground turns him into a psychotic egomaniac.
What Works: It sounds hyperbolic to call a performance one of the greatest ever committed to film, but that is exactly what Daniel Day Lewis accomplishes in There Will Be Blood. Daniel Plainview is simply the greatest antihero since Tony Montana in Scarface. Lewis’ performance is finely tuned, and he nails everything from the posture, to the voice, to the facial expressions and Lewis and the screenplay are able to make this despicable character a fascinating and even sympathetic figure by interspersing Plainview’s intensity and occasional violence with tender moments with his son (Dillon Freasier), revelations of his loathing and loneliness, and–most surprising–instants of humor that deliver big laughs. Although Daniel Day Lewis is the heavyweight in the film, he has a great on screen relationship with Paul Dano as Pastor Eli Sunday. As Eli’s mission and Plainview’s aspirations come into conflict, the film ratchets up the tension and Dano is able to hold his own against Lewis’s presence. There Will Be Blood is conceived in the style, tone, and scope of the pictures of Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, and Orson Welles and it stands up against virtually anything in their filmographies while applying contemporary storytelling techniques. Despite its extended running time, There Will Be Blood has a smartly and slickly assembled narrative, it uses sound and music in unconventional and sometimes avant-garde ways, and its cinematography is composed of gorgeous shots that use classical compositions with current technological tools and editing techniques.
What Doesn’t: Daniel Plainview is such an unrelenting monster of a man that some viewers may find the film inaccessible, especially in the last half hour. The ending is very abrupt and unexpected and will shake up viewers. That is the whole point, and it resolves the conflict and brings the character to a conclusion, but it is not the kind of ending that will necessarily win the film a popularity contest.
Bottom Line: There Will Be Blood is a contemporary masterpiece, merging classic Hollywood storytelling with contemporary styles. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is one for the ages and Plainview proves as complex and memorable a character since Charles Foster Kane.
Episode: #174 (January 13, 2008)