“… I’m lucky that Paul Thomas Anderson decided to end it where he did becasue I doubt I could hold my breath for any longer.”
Last night I was lucky enough to get to see the masterpiece There Will Be Blood on the big (well, big-ish) screen. I’m not a fan of writing reviews for movies like There Will Be Blood, movies that I admire, becasue I always feel that I can’t do the greatness of the movie justice with my mediocre, often misspelled words. There Will Be Blood is one of the best movies of the century, and quite possibly ever, and I know that this review won’t even come close to relating the experience that the movie provides when it is playing in front of you. But I’ll try my best to convey my love in a way that might allow you to understand it.
There Will Be Blood starts off with fifteen minutes sans-dialogue. This is, at least in my opinion, Paul Thomas Anderson’s way of taking off the kid gloves. There Will Be Blood is not a movie that can be trifled with, and it knows it so much that it doesn’t even need dialogue to prove it. The story that is told in these first fifteen minutes of a miner working tireless hours to make ends meet, only to strike gold (pun intended) and eventually create his own business drilling for oil is astounding. There isn’t a word spoken but already you know everything you need to know about Daniel Plainview. He’s determined, he’s hardened, and he will do absolutely anything to be the best. When we finally hear the haunting, commanding voice of the man himself his business is already in full-swing and he is pitching his oil drilling business to a prospective, but rather apprehensive town. Daniel is then approached by an individual who claims that his family’s ranch is so rich in black gold, that it is literally seeping through the ground at their feet. Intrigued, Daniel and his boy, H.W., make the trek to the Sunday ranch where we meet the true story of There Will Be Blood.
There is so much about There Will Be Blood that I want to say but I just don’t know how. This movie is flawless in my eyes, and I’m still dumbfounded at how it was made seemingly without any imperfections. Take, for example, the setting of the film. There Will Be Blood takes place in America in the early 1900’s; really the start of the industrial period where everyone and there mother were trying to get in on the oil craze while farmers were trying desperately to play catch-up with the ever-changing landscape of the lands they once knew. This clash is really the backbone of the movie, but what I want to discuss is how flawless the portrayal of the time is in There Will Be Blood. Movies often do a good job of immersing me in their story, but There Will Be Blood does it in such a way that I fail to believe that it is actually a movie. I can try and convict myself that the film is comprised of actors and sets, but the same part of my brain that believed in Santa Claus when I was a kid doesn’t buy it. That’s the kind of magic that this movie has over me. I’m no historian but to me there is not one single thing that is out of place in There Will Be Blood; not one single speck of dust that can release me from the grasp the film has me in as soon as it starts.
And that grasp is created by many different facets of the film, one of which being the direction. To call Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction in There Will Be Blood ‘beautiful’ would be an understatement to an almost criminal degree. The way that Anderson is able to create these stunning, dynamic shots that not only convey emotion, but also capture the beauty of the landscape is beyond me. It’s not so much that the camera is its own character in the movie, but more like it is always where it needs to be. A scene will start and the camera will move to a seemingly innocuous position. “Oh, this framing makes the background the centrepiece” you think to yourself if you’re as big a nerd as I am about this stuff. But then something will happen and the focus will shift without the camera having moved an inch and you’ll realize that this is the shot that he set up for. He wanted you to see this moment, and the camera was just ahead of the curve. Its moments like these that make There Will Be Blood feel as though you’re looking through a window into a different time, rather than a meticulously produced Hollywood film.
And of course we have to discuss the score in There Will Be Blood, becasue I definitely would argue that the music is its own character. Once again the music makes sure to fit in with the time period of the film, but that’s just a cherry on top at this point; what really makes this soundtrack special is how the music makes you feel. Much like the film itself, the score for There Will Be Blood does a phenomenal job at building tension. There are times that the music is so subtle that it fades effortlessly into the background much like the sound of cicadas on a summer night; but then, when you least expect it, that music will begin to grow steadily as the events on-screen unfold, and before long you are on the edge of your seat as you are being accosted with the sound of shrill strings and an orchestra that sounds like it is in pain all the while you have to watch the events on the screen while holding your breath becasue at that moment you cease to exist. You are no longer a person sitting in a theatre watching a movie, you are a bystander made to watch as Daniel Plainview manipulates his way through life.
But really the best part of There Will Be Blood, and believe me when I say that picking a ‘best part’ is about as difficult as picking which limb I could live without, are the performances. Now the entire film is filled to the brim with magnificent performances from all actors involved, but there are two actors that stand out to me: Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. Now Day-Lewis and Dano are established actors, but There Will Be Blood is definitely the movie that alerted me to their greatness; and I still maintain that these are the best performances either one of them has given in their respective careers. Now I can narrow these performances down to three scenes in the movie, each one outlining the greatness of these actors. The first scene is the first scene in the movie, and it involves Daniel Day-Lewis acting as Daniel Plainview for fifteen minutes without saying a word. This scene (or really portion of the movie) does so much for the character of Plainview, and it really sets the scene for the entire film. The amount of emotion and character traits that Day-Lewis was able to exhibit during this section of the film is astounding, and it really encapsulates why Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greats. Now the scene that I have in mind for Paul Dano is probably my favourite scene in the entire movie: the first sermon we get to witness. During this scene Eli, played by Dano, is performing in front of a crowd at his church as he attempts to rid the demons from the arthritis-riddled hands of one of his audience members. Now I use terms like ‘performing’ and ‘audience’ not becasue I have no respect for religion, but becasue those terms fit the scenario the best; Eli was putting on a show for these people. Much like the faith healers and televangelists of today Eli is using the idea of God to incite feeling in these people; albeit with better intentions than similar people today. This scene really does a good job of painting Eli in a way that explains his character motivations. Much like Daniel he is determined, and willing to stop at nothing to be on top. That’s what makes their struggle so fascinating to watch. And this brings me to my final scene, a scene that takes what was so great about the previous two scenes and puts them together: the ending. At this point in the story we see both men, Daniel and Eli, at their lowest points. Each of them need something from the other, but there is a whole lot of air to clear before they can get to that point. The amount of emotion that is present in this scene is legitimately palpable, and I’m lucky that Paul Thomas Anderson decided to end it where he did becasue I doubt I could hold my breath for any longer. This scene does a better job of showcasing why these two actors deserve all of the praise that comes to them than I ever could; and it acts as a perfect end to a perfect story.
There Will Be Blood is one of those movies that will always have a special place in my heart. I know that my words will never come close to touching the greatness that this film exudes, but I hope that they gave you insight into why I love it so much.
I give There Will Be Blood an A