There is only one thing to anticipate from the title of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's excellent new film, 'There Will Be Blood,' and while it certainly doesn't disappoint on this expectation, there is much more at work here than a simple promise of violence.
'There Will Be Blood' relishes in contradictions: the film is both epic and personal, strictly historical and intensely contemporary, and certainly one of the best films of the year, although this last point is surely to be highly contested. One of the most polarizing filmmakers today (who isn't Michael Moore), people seem to love or hate Anderson's films, ('Magnolia', 'Punch-Drunk Love') sometimes for the exact same reasons.
But here Anderson, stripped of many of his previous boy-genius excesses, has created a riveting and askew masterpiece. 'There Will Be Blood' has more in common with the psychological meltdowns of Orson Welles' 'Citizen Kane' and Werner Herzog's strange 'Fitzcarraldo' and 'Aguirre: The Wrath of God' than with any of his own previous work.
The visual palette is more indebted to the films of Terrence Malick, namely 'Days of Heaven,' than to the camera acrobatics Anderson displayed in 'Magnolia' or 'Boogie Nights.' The film is mature and confident, beautifully shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit and dramatically scored by Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood.
Set at the turn of the twentieth century, 'There Will Be Blood' charts the monstrous, 30-year rise of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from bearded silver prospector to wealthy, mustachioed oilman clearly out of his mind. See, Plainview has a problem with people. He doesn't like them. 'I want no one else to succeed,' he says, and Plainview is willing to do or say about anything to make sure this happens.
When he and his adopted son H.W. (brilliant newcomer Dillon Freasier) settle on drilling a plot of Southern Californian land oozing with black gold, Plainview butts heads with a charismatic, young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano of 'Little Miss Sunshine'), and the two are immediately embroiled in a series of escalating humiliations aimed at diminishing each other's power over the budding town and its buried riches.
Nothing will stop Plainview's greed-not family, not religion, not the encroaching Standard Oil Co. that wishes to buy his find.
Day-Lewis imbues Plainview with so much emotional complexity-he can be violent, insane, and charming all within the same half-cocked smile-it's hard to take your eyes off him.
Dano has a lot of fun channeling a not-so-pious preacher and should be commended for holding Day-Lewis' hard gaze and not disappearing into the background of the scenes they share.
Newcomer Freasier shines as the young H.W., who is rendered deaf during an explosion. I can't think of another recent child actor who has completely held his own in a room full of heavyweights.
Based in part on the novel 'Oil!' by Upton Sinclair, Anderson's script isn't concerned with the evolution of the industry, but rather deftly renders the period and its harsh working conditions to explore his themes of greed and corruption with poetic conviction.