Tuesday, February 05, 2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) [10]
I've been a huge fan of Anderson's previous films, and this film is pratically nothing like those but in a good way. His previous efforts have been known for their manic energy and penchant for flashy form but There Will Be Blood is his most patient, reserved film and it's better for that. Anderson's influences still hang heavy all over this film, Altman and Days of Heaven especially but it never seems like he's copying them stylistically for once. While I think Boogie Nights and Magnolia are great films, this is the film that finds Anderson working at the top of his craft. The film is helped immensely by two excellent elements: Daniel Day-Lewis's amazing performance and Jonny Greenwood's avant-garde influenced score. Day-Lewis simply carries the film as Daniel Plainview, a ruthless oil speculator/driller in turn of the century California. He plays Plainview as a slick salesman, a charmer, a devoted family man, and as a ruthless man ready to crush everyone and everthing in his path to achieve his goals. Where the greatness of the film really lies is that even though the film is essentially a character study of Plainview, it never becomes exactly clear what his goals are. Early in the film, it's clear Plainview is searching for personal wealth and even as he achieves that, it never makes him a satisfied man. There are moments when Daniel truly cares for his "son" but he throws away all familial ties in search of greater greed. Plainview comes to the town of Little Boston to drill but finds a nemesis in a young preacher, played by Paul Dano, who has his eye on the oil's riches to help his fledgling church. The two engage in a series of scheming and humilitating the other in order for both to get what they want. It's this idea of greed, captial as well as personal that runs through Plainview and the film. The film how the all-corrupting influence of the oil encases these men's souls. Both Daniel and Eli fall under the greedy grasp of capitalism, as the money triumphs over any other tenets these men have. But Day-Lewis gives Daniel an inner fire, a need to be able to crush anyone that seems a threat to him, that takes this beyond a film about greed and wealth. It's mesmerizing to see the transformation of the man as wealth has only made him grow more unstable and vicious. The ending sequence of the film is incredibly jarring, as Daniel becomes so consumed by his demons that he takes it out on everyone around him. It's a slow, simmering self-implosion that makes the film. Day-Lewis's performance sells it but Anderson also knows how to restrain himself enough not to give too much away and let Plainview's actions speak for themselves.

Greenwood's score is also interesting in that it has no concrete connection to the time frame of the film. This isn't a period score but it contains avant-garde elements as well as older classical pieces to create something that is incredibly refreshing to hear in a film. From the jarring opening creshendo to the Kubrick like ending, it works because it's so different and unexpected. The score makes the first 20 or so minutes a great film, as no dialogue is uttered. That sequence shows how Anderson has developed as a filmmaker in creating a great film like There Will Be Blood. Now there should be no doubt he being considered one of the best of his era.

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