Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson, Scott Rudin
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis Paul Dano Dillon Freasier
Music by Jonny Greenwood
(This review also appears on Good News Film Reviews)
‘Let us now praise this film’ is the cry unanimously heard from critics around the globe. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 91%. Scores, if not hundreds, have placed it on their 2007 top ten lists.
Strange, given that it is such a God awful slog of a movie, one that has little plot, and no dialogue worth speaking of. Watching this movie is like wading through miles of waist deep sludge. It would much better have been presented as a short art-house documentary, which, in fact is what we get for the first thirty odd minutes. The problem resides in the remaining 128.
There will be Blood starts off well, palpably portraying the grime and toil of turn-of-the-20th-century oil-crazed California. Dirt, drive and ambition depicted in the early sequences, without dialogue, is reminiscent of that dusty classic The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Desolate loneliness is captured masterfully in scenes of dry cacti-spotted hills and wild skies. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood scored the film’s original music. At turns wretched, hypnotic, tense, and grating, it too expresses time and place, ambient mood with haunting beauty. The film also contains Fratres by the great Arvo Pärt and the third movement from Brahms’ Violin Concerto.
A shadow of paternal emotion spreads through early scenes of a young father with his baby son. A son, protagonist Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) adopts, and shows affection, when the boy’s father is killed in a work accident.
To this point the film breathes a genuine, almost quaint silent movie air. There’s also an angry, uncompromising feel to it, documenting the struggle to overcome a God forsaken place; a feel reminiscent of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans.
Left at this point, when storyline intrudes, the film could have been a successful, albeit less ambitious work of art. But it doesn’t stop. The story opens with silver prospector Plainview accidentally discovering crude oil. He begins extraction operations, designing his own rigging equipment, and soon earns enough money to launch a small drilling company. One of his men is killed at the bottom of an oil well in a work accident, and as mentioned, Plainview takes the man’s orphaned child, W.H., as his own. By 1911 Daniel is one of the most successful oil men in California.
He buys up drilling rights to oil producing land around Little Boston, California, exploiting poor ranch owners in his path, double crossing Eli Sunday, a young Evangelical faith healer set on establishing a church. He eventually hits a large "ocean of oil" underneath the town. A blowout and fire occur. His son, who he has used to delude townspeople into thinking he is a family man, loses his hearing in the blast.
The rest of the film is mostly noise, a boring slide into pathetic tormented old age. Daniel Day-Lewis contributes a worthy performance. An intense pressure boiler of evil bursting to be good, a capped gusher of malignant selfishness. Jed Clampett gone bad.
He does a lot, with little, in his portrayal, which is probably why he won the Academy Award. The film is entirely, claustrophobically about Daniel, his blood vessel bursting conflict with religion and young Charismatic Eli, his psychopathological urge for oil, his self loathing megalomania. A family man with no family, a community builder building solely for himself; living in a furnace of guilt, a dirty hole.
Speaking of holes, There will be Blood recalls a much better film written produced and directed in 1951 by Billy Wilder. Ace in the Hole is about a man trapped in a cave collapse and the cynical seedy manner in which a reporter manipulates this event. Kirk Douglas portrays self-centered ambition with a difference. Unlike Day-Lewis, he has a script to work with, as did Orson Welles in Citizen Kane.
That so many ‘critics’ find this movie so good is a mite disturbing in view of the fact it’s so bad. There is undeniable artistry here on the screen, and an impressive, emotive performance. But more than this, I’m afraid I can’t fathom. Good movies don’t fire on two pistons alone.