Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
This might as well be my dissertation.
Few films can transcend its so-called simple story to the extent Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood does. It’s a film that from afar looks like a single layered film but – as you dig in – there is much more to be found. I dare say that it’s the quintessential American film…a film that looks at capitalism, religion, leadership and nihilism as no other film has (nor will). But beneath that, lays a character study of a man with god complex, familial and personal complexities, hypocrisy, and reaps ultimate corruption through it all.
First and foremost, Daniel Day-Lewis is perfect as the main character, Daniel Plainview, an oil and “family” man. His presence alone is like no other performance before. It’s so commanding and personifies his role to a ‘T’ and his mannerisms are insanely effective as well. He speaks with great authority and every moment is believed that he is a man of great power and control; a man that thinks that he’s God and that everything must be in his control to be successful. His character development is non-existent, yet off the charts simultaneously. Plainview is always greedy, but is his control and persona escalates soon after the monumental opening 15 minutes.
It’s not monumental for being a great action sequence, set-piece (we’ll get to that later), or having a stellar script. It’s monumental because it’s devoid of everything that we typically associate with being grand. It is minimalism done right. The story is set up most effectively as it shows Daniel Plainview’s humble (or not so humble) beginnings. He’s a gold prospector all on his own, because he doesn’t want to split the wealth he finds with anyone else. He’s committed to doing it all on his own, and is unfilled because he hasn’t found enough. When he does find his gold though, he is brought back down to reality as he falls down his hole and screams in self-deprecation, “NO”…as he has now failed himself and realizes that this is only the beginning and must rely on others to help him, much to his dismay.
He then goes on to start an oil well business and is still as silent as before. He doesn’t talk to his workers, he simply commands them via his looks and gestures. There’s a godlike presence emitted by him, that he is complete control and doesn’t need to talk to people to get his point across. He’s a plain man – as he states on four occasions. There’s a reason why PTA changed his anti-hero’s name to Plainview. He’s a man with a single view on life…his view and no one else. He doesn’t like to explain himself, he’s a man of power and instruction, not of weakness or questioning.
He has an objection to power, except his own. Daniel objects to the church because it’s something that’s out of his control and doesn’t understand it – it’s a superstition to him and he believes that any involvement (as shown by his rivalry with Eli Sunday) will cause more harm than good because it’s not a plain way. Plainview moves to Little Boston with his “son”, H.W., and that continues the trend of plainness.
His familial relationships offer one of many interpretations of the title, There Will Be Blood. As shown in the opening (sequence), Daniel is a solitary man and has no family. When his worker dies, Plainview takes on [his worker’s] son as his own…his blood, and commands it into existence. Earlier in the film, H.W.’s real father rubbed some oil on H.W.’s nose, symbolizing that he is now of Plainview’s possession in a sense.
Blood is what makes us live, what drives us. What drives Plainview though is money, and his money is oil. So it could be thought that the oil on H.W. is Plainview’s blood and when his father dies, Daniel has his father’s blood splattered on his face, furthering their ties as “father and son”. Furthering the connotation of the film’s title is that Plainview is a man of certainty. When he says that there is oil beneath him, there is…an ocean – it’s his blood, “There will be oil (blood)”.
His relationship with H.W. seems genuine because Daniel is a master of deception, and a corrupt man already because of it – leading a boy to believe you’re his father and then you leave him on a train once he is of no more use. His character is cynical and narcissistic, but that’s what makes him so great. The more he deceives others around him and himself, the more corrupt he becomes. But he doesn’t descend into hell by himself, but with a priest of the Third Revelation, Eli Sunday.
At first glance, Eli (played by the remarkable Paul Dano; standing his ground against DDL perfectly) is just a representative of the religious sanction of America – a caricature of evangelists. But he’s the exact same as Plainview, just religious. They represent a battle in America with a relentless approach with capitalism and obsession. Eli only wants people in the church for the sole purpose of wealth and notoriety. He (just as Plainview) is a hypocrite – speaking of the right things, morals, and dignity, whilst he is a culprit of all of his teachings. And this is all punctuated by the impeccable ending.
The infamous “Milkshake” scene – a piece of perfect cinema. ***INTERESTING NOTE*** Earlier in the film, we actually see Plainview make a milkshake.**** The acting involved is flawless, the allegorical and metaphoric script reaches levels of black comedy and social commentary at once. The scene is so vivid is cinematic glory. It is the complete opposite of the opening sequence – audacious, loud, and complete. In the beginning Plainview said, “NO!” now he is left to say, “I’m finished” after he had finally killed his biggest enemy (the most literal definition of There Will Be Blood) – a face of God, a liar, a hypocrite, a man just like himself.
Even above the ending scene however, is the Oil Explosion scene. In a word, perfect. A scene I deem as the greatest single scene achievement in cinema. It’s a wooden oil rig, that erupted and then went on fire, and it’s all real. The fire delayed the Coen Bros from filming No Country For Old Men, miles away in Texas. The camerawork is exquisite and the choreography is impeccable. The amount of timing involved is unreal and it turned out to be flawless. If it wasn’t real, I would never know the difference. The sound mixing, musical score, and acting are all top-notch. I can’t praise it enough.
But the film is flawless on a technical level the rest of the film as well, so it comes as no surprise. Roger Elswitt is a DP that I absolutely adore because of his work worth PTA, and this is his crowning achievement. His color balances and lighting personifies Daniel Plainview almost as well as DDL does portraying him. He realizes the character is a man that is above everyone else, and his shots really make him pop out from everyone else. A lot of dark and black tones are cast over Plainview as to represent his corrupt nature and morals, and he uses great symbolism and foreshadowing as well with his camera like the train tracks that show the path that Plainview (a straight and plain path) is about to embark on, and it’s also the way that H.W. will leave.
His shot selection is not only denotative of the film’s story, but also aesthetically pleasing as well. This and Jonny Greenwood’s score are pure bliss. Greenwood provides a score as I would expect from the likes of Bernard Hermann and Jerry Goldsmith with a mix of Trent Reznor. It is both complex and a joy to listen to standalone. He mixes organic and mechanic sounds together perfectly, and resembles the battle of religion (organic) and business (mechanic) between Eli and Daniel respectively.
It’s a film with so much to talk about, and I haven’t even begun to dissect the film (as hard as that is to believe). The ensemble cast is incredible (even the small roles), the writing is as solid as any other film, and PTAs direction reaches out to the audience. It’s a film that is well worth watching, if you’re willing to let it speak to you. Even on my 6th watch, I still notice more each time and its meaning evolves and develops as well.
Overall Grade: A+