Paramount // 2007 // 158 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 13th, 2008
There Will Be Greed. There Will Be Vengeance.
"Drainage! Drainage, Eli! Drained dry, you boy! If you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and I have a straw and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!" -- Daniel Plainview
Above all things, Daniel Plainview must win. He's an ambitious oilman of the purest sort...he has picked himself up by his bootstraps and made a name for himself with sheer hard work, intelligence, and a refusal to be defeated by anyone or anything. Unlike so many other "oilmen," wealthy figures of power throwing their money around and buying up property all over the place, Plainview had to start from scratch. What drives him, why does he have such a burning desire to succeed at all costs? And why does he take his ruthless business methods and apply them with even more fury in his personal relationships? These are the questions that There Will Be Blood brought to my mind.
A masterful, dialogue-free prologue set at the turn of the 20th century demonstrates where and how Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York) got his start, and then we fast forward a decade or so. Plainview is now a somewhat wealthy and successful man, but his really big break comes when a young man named Paul (Paul Dano, The King) gives him a lead. Plainview sets his sights on a small California town so rich with oil that the black gold is leaking from the surface. He buys up property after property and building oil wells, only meeting some manner of resistance from a young preacher (also played by Paul Dano) who objects to Plainview's rather nonspiritual way of conducting business.
Plainview's murky relationship with the preacher leads to some of the film's most compelling scenes, not least of which is a wildly over-the-top (but tremendously effective) baptism sequence that takes place inside Dano's church. There is another similar scene between these two toward the end of the film, a sequence of equal power and cruelty. Daniel's other key relationship in There Will Be Blood is the one he has with his son, a young boy who goes with him everywhere. Their traditional father/son dynamic is upset when the boy loses his hearing, something that frustrates and distresses Daniel a great deal.
Film critic Roger Ebert notes that the film seems to bear similarities to Citizen Kane. But he also states, "There Will Be Blood is no Kane, however. Plainview lacks a 'Rosebud.' He regrets nothing, misses nothing, pities nothing, and when he falls down a mineshaft and cruelly breaks his leg, he hauls himself back up to the top and starts again." It's true, Daniel Plainview does lack a Rosebud, at least an explicit one, but I think that's part of the movie's fascination. Citizen Kane, one of the greatest films ever made, gave us a heart-wrenching explanation of a man's life. There Will Be Blood provides a similar life without the explanation, an effect that lacks catharsis but adds an element of sad intrigue. Anderson's film only hints at who or what may be driving Daniel Plainfield to do the things he does.
Though the influence of Citizen Kane is certainly evident, even more important is the influence of the late John Huston. Huston's dynamic, forceful personality seems to be hanging over every frame of this film, partially because Daniel Day-Lewis has obviously used Huston as the model for his performance. Day-Lewis' masterful embodiment of Huston goes beyond the excellent vocal imitation...he uses the same body language and speech patterns as the director. If you get a chance, go watch Chinatown again and observe Huston's character, Noah Cross. Then watch There Will Blood. With the exception of 30 years of age and a mustache, these seem to be the exact same characters. Paul Thomas Anderson also reportedly watched Huston's mad, masterful The Treasure of Sierra Madre every night before filming, and that same spirit of unrelenting greed and fury envelops There Will Be Blood.
The movie may seem to be the perfect film for Huston to direct or star in, but it's certainly not the kind of film you would associate with Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a superb director, but all of his previous films have felt like first-rate Robert Altman movies (incidentally, this film is dedicated to Altman), excellent ensemble pieces that are intimate yet have a lot of depth and scope. This movie is not a multi-character film, it's a one-character film. Yes, there are other actors, but they are only of importance when they are speaking to Daniel, talking about Daniel, or doing something related to Daniel. When they are taking care of their own affairs, the film could care less about what they are doing. In taking this approach, Anderson successfully reflects Daniel Plainview's own intensely self-centered behavior.
The technical qualities here are superb, rivaling the work done on another film set in somewhat similar locations, No Country for Old Men. The talented Robert Elswit (who has done excellent work on all of P.T. Anderson's previous films) supplies some tremendous cinematography and works successfully with Terence Malick's production designer, Jack Fisk, to create some of the year's most memorable images. One that immediately stands out is the oil fire sequence, which deserves comparison to the similar images Werner Herzog filmed for his sci-fi tinged "documentary" Lesson of Darkness. The hi-def transfer is stellar, though it still retains the slightly "worn" feeling that Elswit's cinematography brings to the film. However, there are a couple of minor scratches in places, very surprising for a new film. Things are more impressive in the sound department, with Greenwood's score and some subtly marvelous sound effects working very well together. Dialogue is clear and sturdy.
The special features here are the same as those included on the two-disc DVD release. They are immensely disappointing. There is a 15-minute montage consisting of historical images contrasted with scenes from the film. There are two theatrical trailers. A couple of deleted scenes. A brief silent film from the 1920s about petroleum backed by selections from Jonny Greenwood's score. That's it. What an immensely disappointing and uninformative selection of material. This film deserves far better.
This is a magnificent motion picture, one of the finest character studies in recent years. If you subscribe to the Robert McKee theories about screenwriting, the script is deeply flawed -- the supporting characters lack depth, certain things feel undeveloped, internal elements aren't explored -- but I don't subscribe to what Mr. McKee thinks. This is a ferocious, single-minded portrait of a ferocious, single-minded man. Daniel Plainview has gotten precisely the film he deserves.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 158 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "15 Minutes -- Pics, Research, etc. from the Making of There Will Be Blood"
* Deleted Scenes
* "The Story of Petroleum"
* DVD Verdict Review - 2-Disc Special Edition