movie film review | chris tookey

There Will Be Blood

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  There Will Be Blood Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.50 /10
Daniel Plainview - Daniel Day-Lewis , Eli Sunday - Paul Dano
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Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson , loosely based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair

Released: 2007
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 158

There will be superlatives - and why not? Here is the picture that deserves to trounce all competition as Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. It’s the most profoundly ironic, rags-to-riches story since Citizen Kane. In every way except technical innovation, it surpasses Orson Welles’ classic.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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When we first meet Daniel Plainview (played in one of his too rare screen appearances by Daniel Day Lewis, pictured) it’s 1898, and he’s digging for precious metals. By luck, he discovers oil, which sets him on the path to becoming an oil man.

A mining accident leaves Daniel with an orphan to care for, and he raises the boy, whom he calls HW, as his own. In 1912, he follows a promising lead to California, where he defeats the opposition of local preacher Eli Sunday (played with wonderful subtlety and a hint of oiliness by Paul Dano, the sullen teenager in Little Miss Sunshine). The devious Plainview presents himself to the locals as a straight-talking philanthropist, buys up land and starts drilling.

When he strikes oil, bigger concerns try to buy him out, but he won’t sell. He becomes the model of a ruthless, self-made businessman: outwardly charming, gentle and kindly, yet capable of deceit, cruelty and even murder.

The film looks magnificent – a credit to Robert Elswit’s cinematography and Jack Fisk’s production design. The faces seem to have stepped out of Walker Evans’ photographs. Towering over everyone and everything, however, is Daniel Day Lewis. His performance is one of the finest ever captured on film.

Like a one-man combination of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Plainview makes you see things from his driven perspective, and you share in his tragedy. In many ways, he’s the nastiest character in the movie. Yet, he is also curiously admirable.

Adopting a gruff voice reminiscent of John Huston, Day Lewis makes him complex and contradictory: satanic but benevolent, a personification of Mammon but also a man capable of paternal feelings and old-fashioned courtesy. There’s a grandeur to his greed, a style to his cynicism, a verve to his vengefulness towards those he thinks have betrayed him.

No other actor would attempt some of the eccentric line-readings Day Lewis gives here, let alone carry them off so triumphantly. For example, late on he fixes one such “traitor” with his eyes and drawls “That makes you my competiTORRRR” with such eccentric emphasis on the final syllable that his madness is funny yet utterly chilling.

If Day Lewis does not win this year’s Oscar for Best Actor, the Academy Awards electorate may as well give up. This is a thrillingly real, powerful, charismatic performance that no other actor of his generation – or any generation - could have achieved. In the context of other starring performances this year, he’s like a racing car zooming past underpowered family saloons.

He achieves the apparently impossible by being both epic and minutely detailed, full of meaning but enigmatic, larger than life yet unmistakably lifelike. His Plainview is not an horrific monster, as some critics are mistakenly claiming, but a profoundly human being whose desire to become a kind of God on earth leads with sickening inevitability to his disintegration and defeat.

He also represents an extraordinary, discomforting personification of America itself, revelling in wealth yet dependent on a commodity – oil – that it can’t control, affecting a religious, family-friendly facade, yet deeply materialistic and murderous. In its oblique way, the film contains a powerful critique of America drunk on its own power and achievement.

As for writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, this is a class up from all his previous work. Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love all had flashes of inspiration; but his adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil! shows a fierce intelligence, maturity and instinct for cinema that denote the flowering of a major talent.

Not everyone will like the modernist score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, but I did. Occasionally, it’s a little too intrusive, but much of it is extraordinarily inspired and atmospheric. In the opening, wordless twenty minutes of the movie, it’s like metallic insects rubbing their legs together in demonic dissonance. This is the most revolutionary soundtrack of the year, and certain to prove the most influential. The fact that it hasn’t been nominated for Best Score at the Oscars is a disgrace.

Be warned that this is an extremely long, gruelling film, and not without its challenges. Plainview’s behaviour is sometimes puzzling, and the film serves up its ideas obliquely, rather than spoonfeeding the audience; but such complexity does not seriously detract from a film that deserves the overused accolade “masterpiece”.

The landscapes are reminiscent of Giant and Days of Heaven. The themes owe something to The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed. Daniel Plainview’s cinematic ancestors include such obsessives as Charles Foster Kane, Captain Ahab and Noah Cross, from Chinatown.

But there’s nothing tired or derivative about this film. And even though it’s based on an 80 year-old novel, it serves as a memorably bleak parable for our times, with a coruscatingly savage view of religious hypocrisy and the American Dream.

There are many marvellous sequences, but one of the finest shows Plainview reluctantly consenting to become a Baptist convert in order to finalise an important business deal. It’s a scene which shows Plainview incandescent with rage at having to demean himself, yet also crying out to a God he doesn’t believe in to give him some kind of redemption for his sins.

The final scene of the film, which echoes that agonised baptism in an even more disturbing, psychotic and vengeful fashion, will stay with me forever.

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