'There Will Be Blood' ***** Movie Review 032108

The Book: .... single disc DVD: ...... 2 disc DVD: ............ Blu-ray: ....... Charlie Rose Interview:

The Work = *****
I love John Huston’s voice. As a child I used to watch the Rakin and Bass film ‘The Hobbit’ over and over again. (To some of you, that may seem like reason enough to seek psychiatric help.) I don’t know what it is about Huston’s voice but I love it. I find it relaxing, soothing. I could listen to the late filmmaker read a phone book and be in heaven. I bring up this oddity because while watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s film ‘There Will Be Blood’ I could swear Daniel Day-Lewis was channeling Huston as the “oil man”: Daniel Plainview. ‘There Will Be Blood’ is a dark journey into desperation and Day-Lewis’s strong performance is one of several to see in the film. While it is certainly not an uplifting film and one that may not be entirely satisfying it gets my highest recommendation because there are a great many things to admire in it.

My wondering about Huston turns out to be correct (well, at least according to the trivia section of the Internet Movie Database.) It seems that Day-Lewis drew from the late filmmaker and thus took on some of the wonderful qualities of his voice. There is something about the dirty, sweaty, desperation of the oil man that also brings to mind Huston’s films. (Also according to IMDb Anderson watched Huston’s ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ over and over. If true, that might be fitting as both films deal with grimy desperation.)

‘There Will Be Blood’ (from the Upton Sinclair novel 'Oil') follows Plainview as he grows an oil business. When the film opens Anderson shows him prospecting alone in the desert. Right from the start ‘There Will Be Blood’ looks so authentic it could have been a documentary. That is not to say that the film is necessarily historically accurate but it is that everything in the film looked so believable it may as well have been real. At the core of ‘There Will Be Blood’ is the much talked about performance by Day-Lewis. He is a monster of a man, obsessed with his work, and disgusted with the people he has to deal with to get his work done. It is quite a performance to see, and Anderson nurtures the role and lets Day-Lewis run wild with it.

I was reminded of Sean Connery’s supreme performance in ‘The Offence’. Both characters are reprehensible and absolutely miserable. Both men are also madly obsessed with the pursuit of their goals, past the point of reason. I also thought of Sean Penn’s recent ‘Into the Wild’ as that film also has a main character detached from human connection. While worlds apart it is interesting that ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Into the Wild’ were two of the best films of last year and both featured main characters teetering on madness, obsessed with a goal, and somehow disconnected from human relations.

Then there is the score. I loved, loved, loved the score to this film. I remember first seeing the trailer and wondering what piece of music was used in it and where it came from. Reading about the score I am stunned to find that the score was created by Johnny Greenwood, a member of the band Radiohead. Perhaps, it is my own prejudice but if I were to picture what a score by a pop musician would sound like I would envision something with lots of rock sounding guitars. Shame on me, I suppose, because Greenwood makes a downright haunting score that sounds nightmarish at times. Mixing classical instruments with what I am guessing are electronic instruments that should sound out of place and intrusive but never do, Greenwood makes the perfect compliment to Anderson’s film.

Because of my above mentioned love of Huston’s voice and my love of the character created by Day-Lewis and Anderson I was put in an odd place. I could watch Plainview all day and be happy. That the arc of the story of ‘There Will Be Blood’ may not be entirely satisfying made no difference to me. I loved every second of this movie and that the conclusion is rather sudden and very dark really did not hurt my enjoyment of the film.

What there is of a plot is a journey of Plainview’s rise and fall in some sense through the pitfalls and riches of the oil business in the early 1900’s. Along the way Plainview attempts to raise a son while sucking the oil from towns across America. In his journey he comes up against a pair of twins played with skill and intensity by Paul Dano. Dano’s performance is truly the unsung gem in the film. He’s forced to go all over the map in the movie and at the same time is the shadow of Day-Lewis’s performance hanging above him. That is an odd mirror of their roles in the film as Plainview engages in a tit for tat battle with the young preacher Eli. I must confess that when I first saw ‘There Will Be Blood’, I thought that Eli and his brother Paul were one and the same. They are both played by Dano and since madness seems to eat at Eli I had thought that he was suffering from a multiple personality disorder.

The rest of the cast is uniformly solid and I would be remiss if I did not at least mention two actors in supporting roles that are solid as they always are and seem content to stand restrained in the background. The first is Ciarán Hinds as Plainview’s right hand man Fletcher. Hinds has a restrained role as Plainview’s logistics man who works to keep Plainview’s operations under control. Hinds is an interesting actor who seems content to play everything under the sun. He played the President of Russia (‘Sum of all Fears’,) an honorable brother of a mobster (‘Road to Perdition’,) Julius Caesar (‘Rome’,) and an FBI official (‘Miami Vice’.) He always seems to deliver solid performances and never draws attention to himself. The other is Keven J. O’Connor who seems to have touches of comedy and sadness in almost everything he plays. Whether it was the goofy comic relief in the 1999 film ‘The Mummy’ or the sad, long lost brother here in ‘There Will Be Blood’ O’Connor is a great supporting player.

The title ‘There Will Be Blood’ is interesting and brings to mind different meanings. There is the direct notion that the oil business is dangerous and costly and indeed, in the film it is not long before blood is spilled to try and acquire the smooth black ore. There is also the notion that Plainview despises those around him and only seems to connect with blood relatives like Henry (O’Connor). Paul Thomas Anderson is a great filmmaker and he has yet to make an unsatisfying film. ‘There Will Be Blood’ has garnered the respect Anderson has long deserved and I can only hope it will allow him to make more great films. For myself, I think his deeply personal ‘Magnolia’ is still my favorite. It is a film that never quite found its audience and garnered as much disdain as it did accolades. Then again, I can never really pick favorites and I must say I cannot wait to see ‘There Will Be Blood’ again. The film is unsettling and perhaps, uneven but it is worth the journey see the craft in the filmmaking and the wonderful performances, particularly Dano and Day-Lewis. Highly, highly recommended.


‘There Will be Blood ’ Links:


My 'Into the Wild' review

Copyright 2005 - 2012 Nate Bundy. All rights reserved.