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STUDIO: Paramount Vantage
RUNNING TIME: 158 minutes
2 Deleted Scenes
Dailies Gone Wild
The Story of Petroleum
Paul Thomas Anderson adapts the first 150 pages of Sinclair Lewis’ Oil! and makes one of the great films of the decade.
Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J O’Connor.
Oil man Daniel Plainview comes to the town of Little Boston in search of a massive well. There he discovers his opposite number in preacher Eli Sunday, and their competition leads to both their destructions.
If There Will Be Blood gave us nothing but Daniel Plainview, it would be a masterpiece. One of the richest, most complex characters in American cinema, Plainview
presents to the viewer multiple sides, some seemingly in direct
contradiction, each expertly brought to life by Daniel Day Lewis. There
are aspects of Plainview
that are never spoken, never shown through action, but exist on in a
flicker across his face, surface only for a moment through the lifetime
of hardness and hate, and these are the aspects that thrill on a first
viewing and absorb on the second and third and fourth.
But There Will Be Blood gives us so much more than Daniel Plainview. It’s a masterpiece from the very first fade in on the rough Western landscape accompanied by the droning buzz of Jonny
Greenwood’s horror movie score. It’s a masterpiece of restraint from a
director known for his excess, it’s a masterpiece of muted emotion from
a screenwriter who has worn his heart on his sleeve in every other
film. It’s a movie that is thrilling not because of tension but because
of greatness; There Will Be Blood is a movie that stirs the very soul of every movie lover who watches it.
seeing the movie a few times I have come to conclusion that all of the
brilliance on display here would be only technically impressive if Paul
Thomas Anderson had taken his basic story – an oil man in direct
competition with a preacher – and turned it into an allegory about the
present world, about the conflict between capitalism and jihad in Iraq.
That’s what I would have done, but then again, that’s why I’m not a
genius filmmaker. PTA saw the bigger picture here – this is the story
not of our modern world but our history, the battle between money men
and God men for our souls and our wallets. It’s a story that’s as old
as Jesus chasing the money changers from the Temple.
The God side of the equation is filled by Eli Sunday, a prodigy preacher and a charlatan, as much a money man inside as Plainview. If there’s a flaw in the film it’s that Paul Dano
as Eli cannot hope to stand alongside Daniel Day Lewis; the younger
performer struggles in the great man’s shadow, and I wonder if a truly
ferociously powerful young actor could have changed the dynamics of the
film. As it stands it’s impossible not to side with Plainview due to
Day Lewis’ intense magnetism, but Sunday needs to be the mirror image
of Plainview, not his inferior. It’s the only flaw in an otherwise
When I first saw There Will Be Blood it
was at a Director’s Guild screening with a Q&A with Paul Thomas
Anderson, Paul Dano and Daniel Day Lewis, and there was some confusion
in the audience about Paul and Eli Sunday. Paul Sunday brings news of
the oil in Little Boston and then disappears, his twin brother Eli is
then Plainview’s main foil. Some people were confused because Dano
plays both roles; at the time I was amused by this but over a few
viewings I almost see where they’re coming from. While the betrayal of
the brother is integral, Paul and Eli being the same person – while
goofy – would be completing a trifecta of false relations: young HW is
not really Plainview’s son, Henry is not really Plainview’s brother.
These false relationships are Plainview’s weakness, but for the mirror
character of Sunday it would be his strength, the way he reeled
Plainview in for his own ends.
But that’s not in the text. The other false relationships are, though,
and they make up the magic of the hidden side of Daniel Plainview. A
hard hearted money man, a man who reveals his sociopathic hatred of
everyone else and his desire to crush anyone who dares to compete with
him, Plainview is also lonely. Isolated. He reaches out for connections
and each time finds himself grasping at air – Henry is a swindler, HW
rejects him (is it coincidence that HW’s rejection begins after he goes
deaf? While Plainview is a self-professed hater of his fellow man he
can speak to him with ease and with casual manipualtion. He’s a better
preacher than the overwrought Sunday. When HW can no longer hear what
Plainview has to say, he can finally get away from his influence). We
don’t know who Plainview was before the movie – the film opens with his
rebirth, climbing out of the womb of the earth – but there’s pain
there; he instinctively protects the abused Sunday daughter and he
attaches himself to Henry as a positive part of a dark past. We don’t
know the narrative of his past, but Daniel Day Lewis tells it to us in
his performance; this is the epitome of the tired movie axiom of ‘Show,
Show he does. Rewatching the movie it’s exciting to pinpoint the moment
where Plainview breaks, the moment where he changes from a man
motivated by greed but willing to do good along the way into a man
motivated only by revenge and willing to destroy everything that gets
in his way. It’s that moment when he’s baptized by Sunday, where he has
his sole moment of emotional honesty, where he’s born again a second
time in the film, this time as a being of pure hatred. It’s a magical
moment because it’s not an acted moment, it’s a lived moment, a real
moment, a documentary moment of absolute truth.
I don’t own an HDTV, but watching There Will Be Blood at
home almost makes me want to head out to the store and get one. Robert
Elswit’s cinematography defines gorgeous, a gold-drenched celebration
of the wide open spaces of the West. PTA’s films have always looked
great, and the director’s eye rivals that of his forefather, Martin
Scorsese, but working with Elswit he’s outdone himself. Roger Ebert has
done a frame by frame analysis of Citizen Kane with film students; There Will Be Blood can easily withstand similar scrutiny.
Looking back at my top ten for the year I placed There Will Be Blood at
number 6. It was a crowded top ten to be sure, but I think the film
suffered from my inability to take it all in at the first viewing. I
ranked movies ahead of it that had touched me on a deeper emotional
level, but in terms of sheer filmmaking there wasn’t a better movie
released last year. My initial reaction to There Will Be Blood is
similar to my initial reaction to many Kubrick films, which is probably
no accident as PTA seems to have left behind his Scorsese/Robert Altman
fetish and moved into direct Kubrick territory (the opening silent
minutes of the film can’t help recall 2001, and the final scene of the movie in Plainview’s ill-tended mansion feel to me like The Shining meets a perverted ending of 2001
– instead of a Starchild and the next level of human understanding,
we’re left with the triumph of base venality and hate). But Anderson is
unlike Kubrick in that he’s not cold on the inside; while most of
Kubrick’s filmography still has no emotional resonance for me, There Will Be Blood slowly
reveals itself to be warm on the inside, if slowly dying. I don’t know
if the movie is exactly nihilistic – HW manages to get away in the end,
but only by leaving the country – but it is disillusioned and cynical.
True cynicism only comes after belief, love and caring die. Kubrick’s
films (his later ones, anyway) feel clinical, not cynical.
Do we know that we’re living in such a great age for film? It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when the trees seem to be Norbit and Crash, but There Will Be Blood proves, without a doubt, that great, classic, eternal cinema still lives.
Paul Thomas Anderson once gave us so much, but on this, his sparse masterpiece, he gives us little. There’s no commentary, no in-depth making of feature. Aptly titled 15 Minutes, one piece intercuts scenes from the film with period photos and footage to show us how research impacted the look and design of the film. There are two deleted scenes and a feature called Dailies Gone Wild that presents longer and alternate looks at scenes that are in the film.
Most interesting, though, is The Story of Petroleum, a vintage 1920s short film produced by the US Bureau of Mining and Sinclair Oil to promote oil drilling. A silent, it has a new score by Jonny Greenwood, and it’s fascinating, not just as history but as a way of looking at how the film itself was heavily influenced by original source material.
The two DVDs themselves come in a beautiful slipcase that recalls the original teaser poster, and is patterned after a Bible. While the extras themselves are in short supply the additional disc doesn’t feel extraneous because the feature needs all the breathing room it can get on the first DVD. I would like to see more about the making of this film, and I would like to hear more from Paul Thomas Anderson about it, but I suspect that it’s going to be a number of years before I have that chance.