Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) serves up a masterful study of two ambitious men — a turn-of-the-century oil prospector driven by capitalism and a young preacher eager to grow his flock. The two men come to conflict on occasion, with the prospector’s young son often caught in the middle. But as times of prosperity drift closer to the Great Depression, the prospector and the preacher have a final explosive confrontation that lays bare the devastating impacts of greed and religion on humanity.
From the very beginning of this film, with the title sprawled across the screen in the oldest, most Biblical-looking of fonts, you know There Will Be Blood is here to, as the title promises, offer a revelation. Through gorgeous cinematography, powerful performances, and avant-garde use of sound and music, Anderson creates a surprisingly accessible morality play with deep thematic undercurrents for those who desire mining it.
Daniel Day-Lewis has never been more commanding than he is here. As the maniacal prospector, Daniel Plainview, we see him use and abuse everyone around him to his own advantage. We watch Plainview through the eyes of his adopted son, hoping he will rise to the occasion when human compassion and decency are needed — but Plainview only sinks lower and lower as the film goes on. He’s clearly a villain, a realization that his son eventually comes to acknowledge.
As the young preacher, Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) damn-near matches Day-Lewis in intensity and presence. And for a while, you might think Dano’s character, Eli Sunday, might be playing the fair counterpoint to Day-Lewis’s deranged ego-maniac. But these aren’t the forces of light and darkness at play — it’s two shades of darkness. The light is represented by Plainview’s son, who has the good sense to get the Hell out of town before, well… there will be blood.
The last twenty minutes of There Will Be Blood veer into dark, violent comedy when the two devils throw down. By that time, the film has become so unconventional and the performances so bold, that anything is believably possible. The finale of the film is sublime — delivering on the title’s promise and passing judgment on the institutions that have most guided our species since the dawn of time.
The cumulative effect of There Will Be Blood is unlike any other movie I can think of — it’s intimate yet epic, simple yet profound, accessible yet challenging. It’s a wholly original movie-going experience and one of the finest films the new century has offered thus far.
Academy Awards: Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Cinematography (Roger Elswit)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Art Direction, Sound Editing