2007. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
This is a perplexing film: beautiful and crude, detailed characters and awkward violence, long scenes without dialogue and scenes scored with odd, overwhelming music. After a second viewing, I thought it was all of the above, and a fascinating film, after all.
Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a solitary prospector who abandons his search for silver when he strikes oil. Trying to stay a step ahead of competitors such as Standard Oil, he follows up on a tip to buy a remote goat ranch that has crude seeping out of the ground. He quickly crosses the son of the ranch owner, faith-healing boy minister Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who becomes a lifelong nemesis.
Success has destroyed many a film character, and success will flow between the fingers of Daniel Plainview, no matter how fast he can pump black gold from the ground.
There are several themes pulling There Will Be Blood along: Plainview’s quest for wealth at the expense of all else; his mental and spiritual descent; the battle of commerce and religion, and the toxic sludge created when they are mixed.
Plainview admits that he sees little good in people, which makes it easier to dispose of them when they become problematic. But you can at least respect him for his honesty. The man of the cloth is opportunistic, vain and greedy, and is no match for the manic avarice of the oilman. But they manage to torment each other for a quarter of a century. Eli makes Plainview admit in front of the congregation that he has abandoned his son after an accident leaves him deaf; Plainview makes Eli repeatedly renounce God and declare himself a false prophet, all for a share of profits that don’t exist.
I don’t think enough has been made of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance — Plainview is an unforgettable character, a charmer barely able to restrain his contempt, a misanthrope who knows how to read a stranger’s face. Everyone is a competitor and, as he says, he can’t stand for anyone else to succeed. That includes his son, adopted after an accident leaves him orphaned. Some of Day-Lewis’ best scenes are those of him alone with his young son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), his trusted sidekick and partner until an accident makes H.W. a liability.
It might take more than one viewing, but There Will Be Blood rewards the viewer with an unsentimental look at greed and desperation, and the source of endless wealth and power that lies just feet beneath us.