Excellence in Plainview
BASED loosely on the book 'Oil' by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film and easily his best. The movie follows Daniel Plainview, a silver miner turned oilman played by Daniel Day Lewis, over the course of 30 years as he lies and cheats his way through the world in pursuit of wealth, power and success.
There Will Be Blood; Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Ddano; Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson; Cert: 15; 2hrs 35m
BASED loosely on the book 'Oil' by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film and easily his best.
The movie follows Daniel Plainview, a silver miner turned oilman played by Daniel Day Lewis, over the course of 30 years as he lies and cheats his way through the world in pursuit of wealth, power and success. The similarities to Orson Wells' Citizen Kane are clear but the theme of men being architects of their own downfall is also reminiscent of Scorcese's Raging Bull and John Huston's Moby Dick. I don't make these comparisons lightly. This is an extraordinarily powerful film about industry, religion and American progress with a central performance that is, at the very least, the equal of Brando or De Niro.
Lewis took a year to prepare for the role and every second of that year is up there on the screen. There are no physical anomalies to hang this performance on as in My Left Foot and although the language requires a theatrical delivery to evoke a sense of time and place the performance is not theatrical in the way that his part in Gangs of New York was. This is Lewis's finest screen performance.
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The film opens with Plainview in the darkness of a ramshackle mine shaft digging for silver. We watch as he literally drags himself out of the ground and across the barren rocky desert to survive. The film jumps forward, he's now digging for oil using little more than his bare hands and a bucket. Jump again. Plainview is on his way to the success he craves. He now has money but nowhere near as much as he desires. Enter Paul Sunday (played by Paul Dano) a young man who offers to sell Plainview the location of vast resources of untapped oil. Sunday tells Plainview his family's land sits on an oil well just waiting to be tapped. Through deceit and malevolent charm Plainview purchases the land in California for next to nothing. But he gets more than he bargained for in the shape of Paul's twin brother Eli (also played by Paul Dano).
Eli is a fire and brimstone preacher driven not by compassion but by wrath who uses fear and awe to mesmerize his congregation. With the money his family receive from the sale of their land he builds a church in the middle of Plainview's prospecting called The Church of the Third Revelation. Eli becomes Plainview's nemesis. He's a constant thorn in Plainview's side. An uneasy dynamic develops between the two men as the differences between them become less obvious and the similarities come to the fore.
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Although Plainview is clearly a corrupt and dishonest man Anderson's script and DDL's performance in the first half of the film, invest in him a more complicated and ambiguous quality. The violence and anger that will eventually engulf him are there, but they are contained, simmering away beneath the surface. There is a degree of control to the way he carries himself, to the way he speaks to people. It's as if he's using every ounce of his energy to stay composed, in control. Because of this there are times when it is easy to feel a degree of empathy towards him, particularly in the moments he shares on screen with his son, H.W. (played by Dillon Freasier).
At first there appears to be genuine affection from father to son. He refers to 'family' whenever the opportunity arises. But it soon becomes clear that this is just another trick in the salesman's armoury and that H.W. is nothing more than a visual aid that Plainview uses when selling his vision of the world to those who have something he wants. When H.W. is involved in an accident that makes him deaf Plainview's feeble attempt at understanding the now broken boy amount to very little and shortly after he is sent away to be looked after by strangers.
When Plainview strikes oil on the Sunday land he soon realizes that to make the kind of money he wants he must sever all ties with the railroads and build a pipeline that will take his oil directly to the west coast ports. Through an ironic twist of fate he now has to turn to Eli for help. To get his pipeline built Plainview must be the spectacle in a theatrical denouncing of sins in front of a packed Church of the Third Revelation. Eli forces Plainview into admitting he has done H.W. a terrible wrong and although Plainview plays the whole episode with one eye firmly on the goal of his pipeline a nerve has clearly been touched. The scene turns from absurd to disturbed and back again several times. It's uncomfortable viewing, we want to get the whole farce over with almost as much as Plainview does. After he is baptised Plainview whispers something to Eli. We are never told what. It's a chilling moment that casts a sense of foreboding over the rest of the film.
Every element of this film is astonishing, from the opening twenty minutes, which features virtually no dialogue to the extremely brutal ending. Anderson has been described as a director with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film. His movies are crafted on set or location with actors and crew, not in a studio months later with computers and polished editing. Filmed around Marfa, Texas, where James Dean's final film 'Giant' was shot, the film is a fascinating portrayal of a man lost in a wilderness of his own making, both physical and mental. The long brooding shots, displaced angles and camera positions are perfectly complimented by a score from Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood that veers from barely audible background noise to paranoid, sometimes violent, string arrangements that suggest the desert crying out in pain as it is spoiled by the pumpjacks and black gold.
'I hate most people', says Daniel Plainview. 'I want to earn enough money so I can get away from everyone'. It's this that drives him on but it's also what sends him crazy and brings about his downfall.