‘Ladies and gentlemen… if I say I’m an oil man you will agree. You have a great chance here, but bear in mind, you can lose it all if you’re not careful.’ And thus begins Paul Thomas Anderson’s character study, more familiarly known as ‘There Will Be Blood.’
The character is Daniel Plainview, an oilman, as he freely admits early on. He’s worked hard to reach this status. The movie opens with an almost 15-minute stretch of no dialogue, detailing Plainview’s struggle to achieve this title. Beside him throughout is his son, H.W., who also acts as his business partner. (Plainview also seems to delight in telling prospective investors that he is also a family man.)
Plainview is led to a plot of land owned by the Sunday family. They have seen several indicators that there is oil beneath their feet and, while they don’t really seem to care much for oil or its riches, they seem to believe that to just leave it there would be an injustice. One of the sons, Eli Sunday is a preacher, and he agrees to go along with the plan to let Plainview drill and share the profits with the family, provided Plainview make certain religious and financial concessions to his church.
And thus begins the central drama in ‘There Will Be Blood.’ Plainview and Sunday seem to butt heads at every turn, with each man having their moments of victory and moments of defeat. Plainview is a proud man and to offer any concessions to Sunday, or to anyone else is a great personal insult and a sign of where he perhaps might have failed.
To say Daniel Day-Lewis does an excellent job portraying Plainview does him an injustice. Day-Lewis seems to live in the role. Simply put, his simple ability to inhabit a character makes every film he decides to appear in an instant run out and see. Paul Dano ably holds his own as Eli Sunday. (Well, as much as he can own. Plainview is by nature a destructive man and chews up people and spits them out with great regularity.)
This is Anderson’s most accomplished work. Which is really saying something when you consider the low numbers of filmmakers currently working whose work, each and every time out, demands attention. Anderson has done it in the past, (‘Boogie Nights,’ ‘Magnolia,’ ‘Punch-Drunk Love,’ and now, with great force, ‘Blood.’) His composition, his dialogue and, most importantly, his restraint, are all things to be admired. He knows he’s crafting an epic and, that scale, that scope requires a steady hand and a lot of time.
Yet, on some levels, ‘Blood’ is a frustrating film. What is Anderson saying? What exactly is he even commenting on? Is it the evils of consumerism? The dangers of unchecked religious fervor? Should one of these things overpower the other? Or is it a delicately struck balance, a common ground where Plainview and Sunday would both be happy? Are these two characters with such over-reaching desire that true happiness will always elude them?
These are questions that I’ve been considering for some time. Anderson’s film does an excellent job of bringing them to the forefront and leaving them there, for an audience to consider.
‘There Will Be Blood’ has not left me in the three weeks since I saw it. And while Anderson refuses to provide any easy answers, perhaps it is this simple fact, that the work is so solid, that speaks the loudest. -Sam