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There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood - 2007

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on the novel "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ciarán Hinds & Dillon Freasier

There's nothing greater to contemplate than how the driving force behind all of mankind shifted through the end of the 19th Century, and led to a tumultuous, extraordinary power shift away from religion and towards an industrial-based 20th Century of which oil was a major currency. Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood stages this battle between religion and capitalism as a fight between two very different malignant personalities - Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Plainview is a sociopath - as he confesses to the man who, at the time, claims to be his brother. The only time in the film he lets his guard down. Well representative of what he represents. Sunday is a con-man and a fraud, and his sermons spectacular shows that win him adherents from his audience. Yes, a very cynical way to be viewing religion - but There Will Be Blood is a very hard-edged, brutal look at humanity from a power-based perspective. I love it for it's clear and concise metaphorical artistry, and for the two incredible twin performances from it's leads.

The film starts at the very end of the 1800s, and introduces us to Plainview by illustrating to us his brute determination to climb up both literally and figuratively when he appears to break many bones in his body prospecting in New Mexico - dragging himself out of a pit, through the harsh landscape, and into an assay office to stake his claim. Eventually he finds oil, and adopts a son that belonged to a worker of his that dies in an accident - H.W., transforming his public image into that of a 'family man'. Daniel is approached by a young man by the name of Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), Eli's twin brother, who sells him information about an oil deposit in Little Boston - leading to Plainview and H.W.'s voyage there, and them buying up most of the properties. Turns out there's an ocean of oil there, and while turning it into a fortune Plainview goes head to head with Eli Sunday in a series of dramatic confrontations and power plays. In the meantime, H.W. is deafened in an accident, and sent away by Plainview, giving some quarters the power to shame him. He's also approached by a man claiming to be his brother - leading to his first murder. The film ends with two mighty confrontations - between Plainview and both H.W. and Eli Sunday.

"I am the third revelation!" Plainview thunders at a terrified, diminished Eli Sunday at the end of There Will Be Blood. The first revelation was God's commandments handed down to Moses, and the second revelation was the teachings of Jesus to man. The third is meant to be a person imbued with the power and teachings of God, through whom God speaks. It's a denunciation of everything Plainview has seen Eli do, and a pronouncement of how he has subsumed his standing as a whole. Mankind now worships a new God. Earlier in the film it was Eli who was claiming that he was the third revelation, pretending to heal illness and cast out disease through the power God was giving him - but in the end this turns out to be empty rhetoric, and Plainview exercises real, incontrovertible power that man is depending on. To gain this power, Plainview has been absolutely ruthless, determined, deadly - filled with hate, and ready to strike anyone that might threaten his quest. Even H.W., who he ultimately rejects.

So, when I watch There Will Be Blood it's always with this bigger picture in mind. The way the world changed during the time period the film is set in. As Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day Lewis is so frighteningly real - he disappears into his character so completely I never see the actor himself. In regards to that, I think it must be one of the greatest performances I've ever seen in a film. It's an aura the performer carries around, slightly under the surface as he wants to represent himself as an upstanding family man. "I hate most people," he says to his supposed brother, Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor) - "I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone." He sees the worst in people, and despises them. As Paul and Eli Sunday, Paul Dano is something else entirely. He's more boy-like, pale, ineffectual and sniveling. He's a great performer, but he doesn't have the focus, strength or intelligence of Plainview. Daniel Day Lewis won an Academy Award for his performance, and while I thought Dano should have got a nomination, there was no way he could have beat Javier Bardem in 2008.

Visually, Robert Elswit's Oscar-winning cinematography make the film as much fun to sit and appreciate as it is to contemplate and think about. Considering the sweeping, grand topic it concerns, it stands to reason that the visual representation should be just as imposing and impressive. As much as coincidence is granting me recently, Elswit and P.T. Anderson used the cinematography of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (a film I reviewed very recently) as a basis for how There Will Be Blood should look. Straightforward, simple, yet impressively grand. Marfa, Texas was the place used for filming, with the rest of the production wrapped up in Los Angeles - and you walk away from the film with a succinct memory of that harsh, unrelenting sun that Plainview crawls under during the film's famous, long dialogue-free opening. Tough land to live on - dry and rocky with only sparse vegetation - this epic battle marked by greed is taking place in a hot, pitiless and severe place. I love those wide, all-encompassing shots when it comes to the work these people are doing.

The film was nominated for various other Academy Awards - P.T. Anderson himself lost out when it came to Best Picture, Director and Screenwriting (adapted) - they were all won by the Coen Bros, with their masterpiece No Country For Old Men coming along at a time when both that and this film should have swept all before them. There can be only one. Art Direction went to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - fair enough. Film editing went to The Bourne Ultimatum (surprisingly not The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as did Sound editing. I remember when both There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men both came out - they seemed somehow conjoined in some way. Even their titles seemed interchangeable - if not for their original sources, nobody would have questioned if the Coens' film had of been called There Will Be Blood and P.T. Anderson's No Country For Old Men. If asked for my personal preference, I go with There Will Be Blood, but I love the other as well. They both have their own distinctive driving force.

Of course, taken at face value There Will Be Blood still has a lot of narrative power. Plainview's rise to wealth through pure grit and determination - and through oil - is something to behold, in all it's dark, moody anti-glory. All the moments where he might have been redeemed all pass him by. He fails H.W., and he murders Henry. He enriches himself, but gains no friends - and he never has any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise, with anyone (excluding business necessity.) He ends up an alcoholic, shooting up his own massive mansion and passing out in it's grand rooms. He ends up angry, unshaven and dirty - even though his quest for great power has been a success. His greatest joy is the vengeance he wreaks on his nemesis, Eli Sunday, after Sunday's own vengeance earlier on in the story. That's one of my favourite scenes of all time (in any movie) - the way Eli gets the upper hand when Plainview needs the use of the land that belongs to one in his congregation. Plainview agrees to be baptised, and Eli humiliates and degrades Plainview in a sermon - and forces him to admit that he abandoned H.W. Plainview whispers something to Eli at the end of that scene, and although we never hear what he says, the look on Eli's face says it all.

The last scene in the film is the crescendo. It is There Will Be Blood's exclamation point. It's a twin to the scene where Eli gets the upper hand over Plainview. It's a scene famous for it's "I drink your milkshake" memes, which must have been puzzling to those who haven't seen the film. Frankly, Eli isn't a very sympathetic character, so it's enjoyable to see him destroyed by Plainview - but at the same time this destruction is horrifying because of what it represents. The transition is complete, and the third revelation is the stupendously wealthy and powerful oilman. He's drained all of the power away from the old institutions, and now mankind is completely dependent on him. To have made mankind as a whole dependent on what you produce has to be the greatest feat of power-transferral that has ever occurred in history, and to this day these few have influenced world history, as the fruits of our labour has flowed to them. When There Will Be Blood was made, the Iraq War was still fresh in everyone's minds. Anyway, all of this is why I think it's a great, and very important, film. One of the greatest of all time, in fact.