There Will be Blood
- Paul Dale
- 14 February 2008
As the American industrialist Jean Paul Getty noted, ‘Oil is like a wild animal. Whoever finds it keeps it.’ It’s a notion that lone silver prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) soon discovers when he finds black gold under the deserts of California at the turn of the 20th century. Plainview becomes an oilman, hungry for the natural reserves that lie under other people’s lands. When a tip off leads Plainview and his adopted son to the impoverished, evangelically centred town of New Boston, the protagonist finds himself in a battle of wits against sleazy child preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). It is a struggle that is to test the ethics of both men.
It’s been five years since writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson delivered up the seething minimalist sucker punch of a romantic comedy that was Punch Drunk Love.
With There Will be Blood he returns to the epic form with which he made his name courtesy of multi-character dramas Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The film was inspired by a number of sources, most obviously Upton The Jungle Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, which was written in the context of the Harding administration’s Teapot Dome Scandal, the oilfield lease corruption scandal which precipitated the Great US Depression and Margaret Leslie Davis’ biography of the oil tycoon Edward Dehaney. Shot in Marfa, Texas, where oil saga Giant was filmed in 1956, There Will Be Blood is underlined by US iconography and creed. Indeed the very tenets of the American Dream – weatherbeaten self-dependence, virulent entrepreneurship and rags-to-riches advancement – are used to expose a seam of fanatical power-crazed egoism. Somewhere between Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane and Humphrey Bogart’s Dobbs in John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is Plainview – psychotic, insular, macho, mendacious and totally godless. It is a wonderful part and Day Lewis plays it with a poisonous zeal (his huge moustache and booming theatrical diction barely masking Plainview’s sunbaked insanity).
Working with regular cinematographer Robert Elswit (Michael Clayton, Syriana) Anderson clearly went through a process of running towards the things that intimidated him most about this film: with its huge widescreen pans, low light close-ups and even disaster sequences that use the same syntax and technical effects as cinematographer Ernest Haller used back in 1939 for Gone With the Wind (the ranch burning sequence). All of which make this violent tale of unchecked capitalism utterly riveting, despite the often languorous pace. With Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood bringing a powerful score to bear on proceedings this bleak, grand and ambitious film is a remarkable achievement.
General release from Fri 15 Feb.