David Pearce’s review published on Letterboxd:
"If the good Lord smiles kindly on our endeavour, we share in the wealth together."
There Will Be Blood feels like Paul Thomas Anderson at his absolute best. It's a masterful piece of cinema that I feel is unfortunately bogged down by some rather glaring issues.
I thought the opening was genius. Around 15 minutes of nearly no dialogue, allowing the camera and Daniel Day-Lewis's performance to serve as the audiences introduction to the character rather than relying on exposition. Up to a point I thought I'd fall in love with this film, it felt nearly tailor made for me, but then there was a shift in time. If there's one thing I hate in a story, it's a shift in time, not only that, but when it's drawn attention to by putting the date on screen. To begin with I felt the shifts in time were built around Daniel Plainview's business growth, but by the end of the film I realised they were actually built around the age of his son, H.W.. I had the misconception because during the opening I loved, there's actually a jump of 4 years, from when Plainview worked alone to when he was running a small business. That could have been interesting, watching him develop his small business, but I suppose that wasn't interesting enough to be shown.The "4 year later" scene is where Daniel meets the baby H.W., it is also when he "adopts" him. Because the film wouldn't work with H.W. as a baby, we skip past a huge portion of his development period, again jumping 9 years in the future. The final jump is a massive 16 years near the end of the film, which is when H.W. starts displaying some independence. I take issue with these jumps in time for multiple reasons. First of all I felt it skipped a massive part of Plainview actually building his business. While the film carries themes of family and religion, the story is about a man that owns an oil drilling business, and the business side of that story feels rather neglected. I also don't like the shifts in time because the film is unmistakably about Daniel Plainview, yet for some reason the shifts are dictated by the age of his adopted son. It draws an unnecessary amount of attention towards one aspect of his life, and towards a character that's rather uninteresting for the latter half of the film. The final reason I didn't like the shifts in time is for the very same reason I don't like them in any film I see them in, it feels unnatural. If you're telling a linear narrative, that is, not told in flashbacks or through some other story telling device, shifts in time just ruin the flow in my opinion. Of course time on screen doesn't directly represent time spent in real life and there are ways of progressing a story forward months and maybe years, but the worst way of doing that is just cutting straight to the future and putting the date on screen. I don't feel like that properly represents the time, nor does it give any value to the gap.
I'm not really a fan of Robert Elswit, I never like the way he shot Magnolia and he's a director that receives a great deal of praise just for the work he did for There Will Be Blood. While it doesn't change my opinion on the rest of his work, the praise he receives for this film is truly deserved. There Will Be Blood looks absolutely beautiful. Not only does it look well polished and more professional than Paul Thomas Anderson's other films, but visually it's more vivid and captures the characters in a far more active way. I did feel there were quite a few shots with people centre frame, with a more than slight Kubrick influenced one-point-perspective being used frequently, but not nearly to the extent of it growing old. Something I feel extremely torn by is the score. Jonny Greenwood does an absolutely brilliant job with the music in this film, as an isolated feature it's probably my favourite thing about the film, but I just didn't feel it meshed well. It sounded like something I'd hear in a thriller, with this heavy use of sharp and high pitched strings. I've heard people justify this by saying the score is supposed to reflect the psyche of Daniel Plainview, but for such a traditionally shot film featuring a linear narrative structure, I feel it was a poor decision to only represent a characters psyche through the score.
I don't think I have to talk about the cast in depth. Daniel Day-Lewis is just on a different level entirely. The only actor who comes close is fittingly his character's greatest enemy, Paul Dano's Paul Sunday. Dillon Freasier was a surprisingly good child actor, not setting the world alight but competent in his performance. I'm going to stop now, entire reviews are dedicated to talking about the fantastic cast in There Will Be Blood. I will say that in every review of a PTA movie I love the cast and spend a while gushing about them, and I would call this some of the best performances I have seen in any PTA film.
The cast and the visuals really are both excellent. The story charts the success of Daniel Plainview very well, while also making some rather bold criticisms of the American dream, but I feel structurally this is a rather disappointing narrative. If there were no other actors and this was just Daniel Day-Lewis for two and a half hours, I would say this is worth watching, but just because he's surrounded by such a brilliant supporting cast I'd call this a must watch. I wouldn't go as far as call it the best of the 00's as many people have, but I would call it one of Paul Thomas Anderson's best films.