Tuesday, March 27, 2012

100 Movies - No. 88: There Will Be Blood

88. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Drama, 158 minutes
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Ciaran Hinds

If you ever explore threads asking people to list the movies they find the most boring, you'll see that There Will Be Blood is often mentioned. I can understand why. The opening 14-and-a-half minutes doesn't contain any dialogue unless you count the occasional grunt or cry of pain. The score is often unsettling and unlike anything you would expect to hear. The pacing is slow and the film has plenty of painful scenes.

The opening scene is set in 1898 and gives us immediate insight into the character of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis). We see him working alone, prospecting for oil. It's a physically demanding occupation which is full of danger. One small lapse can cause a severe injury or even death. Plainview falls down a well shaft and breaks his leg, but discovers oil in the process. We then see him crawl backwards as he slowly makes his way into town to register the find. He's one of the most stubborn and driven characters you will ever see portrayed on film.

In 1902, he's working with a group of men, and we are reminded again how dangerous the work is. A tiny mistake results in the death of a man and Plainview adopts his orphaned baby boy.

The story jumps forward several years and we see Plainview and his adopted son, HW, attending a town meeting. Plainview has discovered that the region contains oil and we see him making an offer to extract the oil. His argument is calm, reasonable, and logical. He's quite a salesman. He talks of other offers the town may receive and why his own proposal is the best solution for everyone. We are given the impression that he knows what he's talking about and it's difficult to resist his offer.

When Plainview is visited by Paul Sunday (Dano), the main part of the film begins. Paul offers to reveal the location of land rich in oil and he negotiates a price for the information. Plainview visits the town and finds that the information is accurate. He begins buying up all the available land.

The film contains a power struggle between Plainview and Eli Sunday (also played by Dano). Eli becomes Plainview's enemy immediately by negotiating a higher price for his father's ranch than Plainview expected to pay. Eli is also the town's priest and he seeks power and recognition at every available opportunity. Plainview sees him as a fake and doesn't seem to have any religious beliefs of his own, but he's forced to bow to Eli's wishes on several occasions.

I've barely touched on the plot, but I won't reveal any more. This is a sprawling story spanning several decades. It's one of the most intense character studies that I've ever seen. You'll see how Plainview relates to other people and his adopted son. He's a ruthless businessman and it's dangerous to cross him. In one scene, we hear his honest thoughts on society:

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people."

That last sentence is spoken with irony, but Plainview makes it clear that he understands his own true character. As the story progresses, we see what obsession and hatred can do to a man when it's maintained over a long period of time.

My knowledge of film isn't as deep as you would expect for someone of my age. It's a relatively new obsession in my life. However, I believe that Daniel Day-Lewis delivers the best acting performance I have ever seen. I didn't doubt for a moment that he was a bitter, obsessed, driven man, capable of doing anything to bring him closer to his goals. Day-Lewis is in every scene and the film wouldn't have had the same impact without his astonishing performance.

The technical aspects of the film are also superb. Jonny Greenwood's unusual score is particularly effective. One of my favorite moments happens during a drilling accident when the percussion increases in tempo as the scene unfolds. The cinematography is breathtaking at times. There's an early scene in which Plainview and HW approach the crest of a hill and the distant landscape is revealed. It's one of several moments of extreme beauty in the film.

If the film has a fault, I would say that the final 20 minutes don't quite match the quality of the rest of the story. This closing sequence still works, and contains a few memorable moments, but the first two hours are close to perfect.

If you enjoy character studies that aren't afraid to take the time to tell a story, There Will Be Blood might be your kind of film. If you need action and an upbeat conclusion, then it's probably not for you.

If you like There Will Be Blood:

Daniel Day-Lewis gave another fantastic performance in Scorsese's Gangs of New York. It's a brutal historical drama with strong characterization. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz also star.

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  1. "I believe that Daniel Day-Lewis delivers the best acting performance I have ever seen".

    Steven, you may just be my alter ego.
    I feel EXACTLY the same. I am still amazed by that incredible performance. I get chills EVERY time. Day-Lewis is one of the top 5 actors ever and his turn as Daniel Plainview is my favorite performance on film. It's flawless. That baptism scene? WOW.

    Paul Dano held his own against that monster of an actor pretty damn well. The music and cinematography are great, too. I can understand why people would find it boring, but I definitely do not. This is one of my favorite movies and I still think it should've won the Oscar for Best Picture.

  2. It was a good year. I love No Country for Old Men too. I'm glad Day-Lewis won Best Actor though. It would have been ridiculous if he hadn't.

    "I have abandoned my child!"

  3. I legitimately found it to be one of the most boring movies ever made. This coming from someone who has run a critical review site and seen movies from the 1890s through present and am familiar with the French New Wave, Italian neorealism, German expressionism, Soviet formalism, etc. There are a lot of great silent film gems out there. This movie is just horribly overrated and I have no idea why. I don't need action, but I do demand a plot where things actually happen not just almost 3 hours of total nonsense. The movie is total garbage just like everything else Paul Thomas Anderson has done. Inherent Vice was so godawful I had to turn it off after 20 minutes. He has no respect from me as a filmmaker and I won't give his movies more than 20 minutes anymore unless they are at least "ok."

    1. I had a similar reaction to The Master, but I love There Will Be Blood.