There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson – the writing/directing auteur behind such
modern and slightly surreal films as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and
Punch Drunk Love – is certainly not known for his old-fashioned
sensibilities, though they were definitely there if you looked between the
lines of his previous works.
However, with his first literary adaptation (all his previous films were
original stories, though somewhat based on real life occurrences) Anderson
has pretty much jettisoned all of his modern techniques and made a film that
is timeless enough that it could have just as easily been filmed in 1940,
1970 or now. Yet, that timelessness is based on an almost fetishistic
devotion to the specific era it is portraying more than an easy fit into the
Loosely based on Oil!, a previously-mostly forgotten Upton Sinclair
novel about the early days of that industry, There Will Be Blood is
gloriously dated. A product of the time in which it takes place (though
with some sharp underlying statements about business and religion in the
modern world), the movie is quiet, solemn, larger than life and at the same
time grittily sordid.
The film moves at a calm – and yet never leisurely – pace more suited to the
1920s world that it portrays than the attention-span-starved reality of most
modern entertainment. There Will Be Blood covers decades as they
slowly unspool and quietly reveals its characters, watching as all become
blacker and bitterer with time.
It is a brave stylistic choice to show this world at such a measured pace.
Anderson is able to do things that are not heard of in modern cinema. For
example, there is literally not a word of dialogue until just
under fifteen minutes into the movie (fourteen and a half to be precise).
Anderson is banking on the fact that the story will keep the audience
transfixed through the quiet times.
wish I could say that was the case.
While in many places the storyline is riveting, too many other spots allow
the attention to wander. Others are merely confusing. Not that I don’t
appreciate it when a director trusts his audience enough to not spell
everything out. I really do. Just at over two and a half hours, There
Will Be Blood is a bit hard to slog through.
The main problem with the film is mirrored in Daniel Day-Lewis’ acclaimed
performance as the anti-hero of the story. It is a brilliant performance
and at the same time it is rather mannered, melodramatic and overwrought –
it feels perfectly compatible for the world of the story, but looking at it
with modern eyes it also feels a little unnatural and stilted.
Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, an oilman whose friendly, family-values
approach to business (he travels everywhere with his young son, who is deaf
and mute) masks a cold, calculating mind. He is so ruthlessly driven to
make money that he will lie, cheat, steal and betray anyone if there is a
profit to it – colleagues, friends, relatives, even his supposedly beloved
When he shows up in a small western town to exploit a potential oil deposit,
he is placed in a mano-a-mano fight with the local priest, Eli Sunday
(Paul Dano) for control of the town. (Plainview and Sunday? Heavily
symbolic names are big here.) Plainview strives to win over the good people
of the burg with the promise of fortune, Sunday barters with salvation.
Neither man is what they seem to be and both are haunted by the other’s
power over the citizens of the town.
To say that There Will Be Blood reminds me of no other movie so much
as Citizen Kane is a huge compliment – and yet Kane was a
product of its time. There Will Be Blood is not. In many ways,
Blood is in a product of Kane’s time as well. I can see Orson
Welles and Joseph Cotten in these roles easily.
There Will Be Blood
is in many
ways a masterpiece. It is beautiful, heartfelt, intelligent and dark. It
is simple to respect the achievement of a film like this just being made in
the modern Hollywood system. I just wish it were a little easier to embrace
as something other than a technical exercise.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: April 4, 2008.