Thursday, September 20, 2012
There Will Be Blood
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/13/08 w/ Additional Edits.
Based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, There Will Be Blood is the story of a silver miner who goes into the oil business in Texas as he becomes a tycoon while making an uneasy alliance with a young preacher. Written for the screen and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film is a study of greed, family, faith, and morality during the rise of the oil industry in the early 20th Century. The film marks a huge departure from Anderson as he moves away from ensemble-driven stories for something much grander. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciaran Hinds, and Kevin J. O'Connor. There Will Be Blood is an epic and grand film from P.T. Anderson.
It's 1898 as a man named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is mining for silver where in that moment, he succeeded in finding silver in the middle of the desert in the American southwest. Four years later, while mining for more silver, an accident occurs where a man is dead while at the same, a discovery is made when Plainview finds oil. Nine years later in 1911, Plainview has become a rich man as with the help of his son H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier) and assistant Fletcher (Ciaran Hinds). After trying to talk to a group of townspeople about drilling oil in their land, confusion arises as Plainview leaves as he tries to seek other opportunities. Later that night, a visit from a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) arrives to offer Plainview a chance to go into his land of Small Boston in the middle of a desert in California. Paul claims there's oil in his family’s land as Plainview decides to take the offer.
Daniel and H.W. arrive to the Sunday ranch where they meet the Sunday's head Abel (David Willis), they also meet Abel's other son Eli (Paul Dano) who wants to create a church for the town as he claims to be a preacher. While hunting for quail, H.W. discovers oil in the land as Paul's claims turned out to be true. Daniel makes a deal with Abel and Eli for their land as Fletcher arrives to help create an oil field for Small Boston. With Eli becoming the town's preacher, he had hoped to be acknowledge by Daniel in raising the spirits of the town that is suffering from lack of plants and such. Then one day during drilling for oil, another discovery was made at great cost as Daniel and Fletcher learn that there's a lot more oil than they bargain for.
With problems emerging from other competitors and companies including a man named H.M. Tilford (David Warshofsky), Daniel is finding himself becoming more greedier taking more of the Sundays' land as he begins to have problems with Eli. Then came the arrival of a man named Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor) who claims to be half-brother of Daniel. Daniel, reluctantly takes him after sending H.W. away following an accident as Daniel learns about land that he doesn't own that he needs for an oil pipeline. Daniel succeeds but greedy temptations get him in trouble when he meets Bandy (Hans Howes) who offered him a deal to give his land for an oil pipeline but with something money couldn't buy. The result also makes an uneasy alliance with Eli as Daniel becomes rich but troubled as by the time H.W. is an adult (Russell Harvard), he no longer trusts anyone as he reveals more secrets realizing his true nature.
Films about greed and morality often take in a message that sometimes get heavy-handed and will often beat that message to an audience as they start to get it. For a film like There Will Be Blood, there is a message it's very ambiguous since P.T. Anderson is more about telling a story rather saying this is what happens and the result of that. Taking inspiration from films like George Stevens' Giant, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, and the films of John Huston, Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, and the late Robert Altman (whom he dedicates the film to). Here is a movie that is about greed in all of its horror. We have a character named Daniel Plainview, a very unlikeable man who audiences shouldn't root for yet he has wit and charm about him. Here is someone who has very little loyalty to anyone, including business associates, friends, or even family. Instead, he is someone who cares about one thing, himself.
What is surprising is that during a scene with Henry, he reveals that he's not a very good man. He despises humanity, even himself. He's in it for greed and greed alone. He makes Gordon Gecko of Oliver Stone's Wall Street look like a simple paper boy. There are no such thing as regrets, he has no pity for anyone. At times he may love but it's all an act. Then there's the character of Eli. He in some ways is like Daniel Plainview on the way he uses religion. Here is a young man who wants to become a preacher hoping to have a big church. Yet, when business dealings go awry, he attacks his own father claiming that it's his fault for his own stupidity. Yet, there's an irony about Eli, particularly in the film's powerful ending. It's a revelation about him in a scene with him and Daniel that proves to be jaw-dropping. Even in the mention of Eli's brother Paul, who some claim that Paul/Eli are the same person but they're not. Paul Sunday is in only one scene where though it may be brief, what happens much later on is the result about Eli's true nature.
The film is in some ways a study of morality and human nature. Even the fallacy of humanity. The film's opening scene where Daniel breaks his leg to get his silver, an ordinary man would give up but not Daniel. To him, a broken leg means nothing yet when some part of his life becomes impaired and couldn't be fixed. He just moves on to another thing. It's Anderson's screenplay in this study of these themes that is very potent and engaging. While the audiences do have to take time to think about what they saw, it's something Anderson wants them to do. Think about everything they've seen and come to their own question about humanity and morality. Yet, Anderson's focus on the story is centered around Daniel Plainview as his take on Upton Sinclair's Oil! is truly one of the best script adaptations ever helmed.
While Anderson's script his strong, his direction is taken to new heights and restraint. Gone are the stylish tracking shots and lushness of previous films. Instead, Anderson goes for the grand visual style of epic-scope that defined the work of not just Italian director Sergio Leone but also the lushness of Terrence Malick. Anderson's canvas and composition of the scenes he's created are miles away from the films he did in the past as he revels in the drama and let the scenes unfold. The time period of early 20th Century is a total change from Anderson's world of late 20th Century/early 21st Century Los Angeles. His look of the desert is very stark and almost haunting as he taking the audience on a journey to this eerie land.
As the story develops, there's an amazing scene that definitely reveals part of Plainview's nature that involves an accident where the oil is suddenly bursting into the air followed by fire. The composition and presentation that Anderson does is just breathtaking. The scene in some ways represents something biblical similar to the famous locusts & fire sequence in Terrence Malick's 1978 classic film Days of Heaven. The sheer sense of horror and wonderment is what is happening and at the same time, there's something else going wrong that Plainview is oblivious to as he is amazed at this discovery. That presentation Anderson is doing is just superb and miles away from some of the other great moments he's made in previous films. The film opens with very little dialogue while some scenes have no sound at all. Even the film's third act has a different feel as it's set from a different world than Small Boston. The end result in Anderson's direction is that here's a man who has now risen to a new level as a cinematic artist.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit does what is probably his best work on film as he captures the stark look of Small Boston with its colorless look. Still, Elswit's work is exquisitely haunting in the oil-fire scene in the look of the skylines he brings. The look of the film is nearly reminiscent of some of the beauty seen in the films of Terrence Malick from its natural-like interior shots while the exteriors are just wonderful that included the greenery scenes in the forest during the pipeline-beach sequence. Elswit's work is just amazing in every frame shot. More importantly, Elswit's camera is in every sense of dramatic action to capture the intensity of the scene with some wonderful tracking shots, dolly shots, and everything to capture a scene. Elswit's work with Anderson in previous films were great but in this one, he's at his finest.
Editor Dylan Tichenor does some excellent work with the film's editing, even at the long 158-minute running time. Tichenor's use of fade-outs, transitions, and dissolves to convey the state of madness and emotion in the cutting is excellent in conveying the tone of the story. Even in the scene of Daniel and Henry's traveling has a great use of jump-cuts to convey the rhythm of the search with help from the film's music score. Tichenor's work is overall superb.
For the film's period production design, Anderson employs the brilliant Jack Fisk, who is famous for his legendary collaboration with Terrence Malick. Fisk's design of the oil wells, the poor housings of Small Boston, the church house, and Plainview's home at the end is exquisite. With help from set decorator Jim Erickson and art director David Crank, Fisk's work is amazing every design of the sets he built, notably the big oil rig tower early in the film that shows his talents that's also been used greatly by David Lynch. It's the work of Jack Fisk that really deserves a lot of notice. Costume designer Mark Bridges also does excellent work with the period suits and such to convey the period of time where the whole look of clothes aren't very colorful to contrast the film’s bleak look.
Sound designer Christopher Scarabosio and sound editor Matthew Wood do an amazing job in the film's use of sound. The sound work the two did with their team is truly one of 2007's great technical achievements from the sound of cracking bones in the film’s early sequence of Daniel's silver mining. To the sound of the early 20th Century with trains and machinery in the oil drilling. One great sequence where sound is used to great heights is the famous oil explosion that sounds like a cannon out of nowhere. It's nearly deafening and the results has scenes where sound isn't even heard. The atmosphere the sound work has is just amazing to convey the sense of chaos that goes on in the film as it's one of the year's best.
The film's music features classical pieces from Brahms and Avro Part, particularly in the final credits that is almost in the use of style that Stanley Kubrick's been known for. One of the Brahms pieces is played during an oil drilling scene to convey that sense of celebration in that first drill. The rest of the film's music marks the very first time where P.T. Anderson doesn't employ the services of his regular collaborator Jon Brion. Brion, who has been known for more whimsical, melodic pieces of music wouldn't have been the right person for the film. Instead, a more traditional yet intense score is used for the film as Anderson employs Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.
The orchestral music and arrangements written by Jonny Greenwood is probably one of the best film scores ever heard. The sense of intensity and horror mixed with melancholia and sadness conveys the range of emotions. From the use of eerie strings that would sometimes screech to convey the film's tone. The music of Greenwood packs a punch emotionally and mentally as it captures every sense of horror that is played on film. While Greenwood might be known to some as the brilliant guitarist/multi-instrumentalist for Radiohead, he shows more of what he can do with film scores as he reveals he has a future in scoring films.
The casting by Cassandra Kulukundis doesn't feature any of the regular Anderson players from previous films nor do any of them make one-second cameos. Instead, it's a group of unknown actors playing many parts. While’s there's controversy in the lack of any big female roles. It's largely because this film is mostly about men and their mad obsession with women pushed into the foreground. That may not seem fair but in a world that Anderson is portraying and the time that he's presenting, it's mainly a man-driven film. Though there are a few standout female characters in Kellie Hill and Christine Olejniczak as Ruth and Mother Sunday yet the bigger role goes to Sydney McCallister as Mary Sunday, who plays the role of a childhood friend for H.W. and would later be seen as an adult, played by Colleen Foy.
Other small performances from Colton Woodward as Bandy's grandson William, John Burton as an oil man named L.P. Clair, Tom Doyle as J.J. Carter, and James Downey as a land-man named Al Rose are good. Notable small roles from David Willis as Abel Sunday, Russell Harvard as the older H.W., David Warshofsky as Tilford, and Hans Howes are excellent for their brief yet memorable performances. Kevin J. O'Connor is great as the shady yet kind-hearted Henry, a man claiming to be Daniel's brother who really wants nothing but the simple things in life. Ciaran Hinds is also great as Plainview's associate Fletcher who is also a conscience of sorts who seems to care more about what other people are feeling rather than Daniel's greed.
Dillon Freasier is brilliant as H.W., the young boy who was taken by Daniel as his companion only to be rejected because of an impairment as he tries to deal with it himself. Freasier's performance is a wonderment of innocence and observation as a child who like his father, wasn’t going to let some imperfection keep him down. Yet, unlike his father, he has a conscience and moral that makes him redeeming. Paul Dano gives what has to be his best performance yet, topping his previous big role as Nietzsche-loving mute in Little Miss Sunshine. In the dual role of Paul and Eli Sunday, Dano brings a creepiness in his brief role as Paul but as Eli, he plays the role of a foil of sorts for Daniel while unveiling the manic obsession he is as a preacher wanting power. Dano's energetic performance is just eerie to watch while he's also great in showing his restraint as a man claiming to be a man of God.
Then there's Daniel Day-Lewis in what has to be one of his finest performances yet. Channeling John Huston, Day-Lewis gives a performance full of bravado, energy, and charm. While his character is a dark, hateful man, Day-Lewis gives Daniel Plainview a presence that audiences can't help but watch. The performance is almost in every scene he's in as Day-Lewis just commands the screen with every ounce of energy he puts into the film. It's really Day-Lewis's film in the way he performs while bringing Daniel Plainview to life. Day-Lewis also brings a bit of humor and horror to the film, notably in the film's final, manic 25-minutes that shows the actor going a bit over-the-top but putting a lot of energy and fun into that performance.
While fans of Paul Thomas Anderson might be taken aback at his new cinematic style, There Will Be Blood is still a brilliant, jaw-dropping, and exquisite film from the auteur with a great performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. While doesn't have the entertainment & nostalgia of Boogie Nights nor the existentialism of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood is still a film that has to be seen. With additional praise towards the performances of Paul Dano and Dillon Freasier plus the technical work of Robert Elswit, Jack Fisk, Christopher Scarabosio, Matthew Wood, and Jonny Greenwood. There Will Be Blood is truly a film for the ages as Paul Thomas Anderson creates something that is unlike anything in film.
Paul Thomas Anderson Films: Hard Eight/Sydney - Boogie Nights - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - The Master - Inherent Vice - Junun - Phantom Thread - Licorice Pizza
Related: (There Will Be Blood OST) -The Shorts & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson
© thevoid99 2012