There Will Be Blood
Opening at Boardman’s Art Theater on Friday
The most impressive thing about writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson is that he continues to challenge himself with every feature film he makes. While each of his movies (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love) have been successful to varying degrees, they’ve all been flawed as well.
There are some who will dislike Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and it’s easy to see why. It’s an abrasive work with an unsavory protagonist, its structure is anachronistic and it does lose its way during its final act. Be that as it may, this is a film that should be embraced fully for its wild ambition, its emotional and physical scope, its sheer audacity and the performance from Daniel Day-Lewis who delivers a haunting portrait of a man who allows himself to be consumed by greed, forsaking love, community and his soul for a hollow existence that leads to insanity.
Anderson sets the tone immediately, as we witness Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) leading a poor, solitary existence, mining silver in the middle of nowhere. Poverty dogs him for years, yet he continues to look for riches from the earth, shifting his focus to oil where he has considerably more success. Plainview is seen caring for an infant, who he feeds, carts around in a satchel and literally consecrates with oil. Years pass, Plainview and his son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier) travel the country looking for other opportunities and one falls in their laps when they’re visited by a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano). For a price, he tells them that great oil reserves lie beneath his father’s farm and they’re just waiting to be snatched up.
Though skeptical, Plainview and his son investigate this claim and find it has merit but come up against some resistance from Paul’s twin brother Eli, who insists that guarantees be made that the citizens of the community be taken care of and that a church be built, as he’s a faith-healer whose congregation needs a house of worship.
While the riches do come pouring in, the cost to Plainview is high as a great tragedy befalls him, Sunday sets out to ruin him in the eyes of the community and a person from his past emerges under dubious circumstances. All of this is told against the backdrop of an epic physical and emotional landscape, with the character’s actions reaching biblical proportions as they walk the high wire between sin and salvation at every turn, conscious of the consequences of their actions but ignoring the ultimate the cost.
Plainview allows his obsession to overtake him and one wonders if he ever possessed any sort of compassion as he admits at one point that he hates nearly everyone he meets and can see no good in anyone. Day-Lewis keeps us fascinated throughout and his performance is one for the ages. Cruel, arrogant, murderous and altogether charismatic, the actor becomes immersed in the role, wearing his flaws with a sense of perverse pride that’s fascinating.
In the same league as Greed, Citizen Kane and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Anderson delivers a monumental tale of avarice and corruption that, though it stumbles badly in its last act, delivers so completely during its first two hours that its latter flaws can be forgiven. This is a brand of epic filmmaking the likes of which we rarely see anymore and Anderson deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon him.