Synopsis: This widely acclaimed masterpiece and must see American epic features the Academy Award winning performance of Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor, 2007). Daniel Plainview and son are independent oil men, looking for prospects in California at the turn of the 20th century. They are challenged by a young preacher, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), whose own ambition is matched by Plainview’s. Their battle forms the center of a scary, darkly comic historical journey into an abyss of madness “There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic American nightmare, belching fire and brimstone and damnation to hell. It is, above all, a consummate work of art” (Manahola Dargis, The New York Times).
I’m terribly pleased that the title of this film is ‘There Will Be Blood’, as opposed to ‘Oil!’, the title of the novel it’s based on.
For starters, there’s no way that I would have watched a movie called ‘Oil!’. It just doesn’t interest me, let alone grab me by the throat. In fact, I didn’t know until recently that this film was about an oil tycoon (and even then, I tried to keep my knowledge as vague as possible before watching the film).
Secondly, ‘There Will Be Blood’ suggested gangster-like violence. I’m not a proponent of violence, but I was acutely aware of the title as I plodded through some of the more dramatic moments of the film. I couldn’t help but be conscious of the fact that the promise of some sort of violence (even if it’s accidental) carried a long shadow.
Now, come to think of it, I wonder if the title is a reference to the jagged family ties in this film. I also wonder if the blood substitutes oil in the title, in that the character is prospecting for oil, but the more he searches for oil the more blood flows. So the film initially promises oil, but it is really, in effect, promising blood.
There’s also an intriguing connection between religion and capitalism in this film. I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around it yet, but I am curious to know if it was intentional or circumstantial.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The reason I haven’t sorted it out yet is that I only clued in to these possibilities at the very end of the film, the moment that Daniel Day-Lewis’ character killed the priest and responded to his dutiful servant’s concerned queries with: “I’m finished”.
It’s such a strange way to end the film that I wondered about its relevance. It got me to quickly revisit the film in my head, seeing that Day-Lewis’ character had slowly worn the priest down, tricked him and his flock to get what he wanted, eventually humiliated him by forcing him to turn his back on God at his lowest moment… and then destroyed what was left of him. All the while letting the priest believe that he held the power.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
I can’t help but wonder if there’s an intentional comment being made about the connection between Big Oil and the Religious Right, considering the times we are in, about how the oil men (and their partners in crime) frequently claim to be “God-fearing men”, when their actions don’t really support this. And I wonder if religion is used as a tool to buttress their support – but nothing more.
Well, either I will have to read up on this film, or watch it again, but I’d sure like to know…
On the acting front, I have very little to gripe about – it’s all solid and very realistic. My chief concern is with Paul Dano, as the priest, who can be possessed with unmatched intensity in the one scene and then dough-faced in another. I would have to see a few more of his films to see if it’s the actor or the role that bothered me.
Meanwhile, Daniel Day-Lewis was smouldering. I couldn’t help but see parallels with Robert De Niro in ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Goodfellas’; it’s in the way he smiles, it’s around the eyes. I’m not saying that he’s borrowing from De Niro, more so than I believe that they’re from the same mould. Which, in this case, is a great thing.
This character is all about control: self-control, manipulating others, mastering situations, …etc. He rudely refuses to divulge personal information, completely dispenses with pleasantries unless it furthers his aims (and then he does so with an utter lack of sincerity), …etc. Watching this ruthless, unsympathetic man obsessively pursue his goals to the point of madness is terrifying, because we know that this kind of man actually exists. Somewhere.
I’ve since read that Day-Lewis supposedly based his performance on John Huston, the famed director of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’. Apparently, this was influenced by director Paul Thomas Anderson, who sent him documentaries of the man to watch as they were preparing the film. Similarly, it is claimed that Anderson watched ‘…Sierra Madre’ every night while shooting ‘There Will be Blood’.
A key element that struck me during the film was the music. I’m not sure if it was meant to convey the emotional state of the lead character or not (I’d have to watch it again to figure it out), but the score had a dissonance that reminded me of horror films – it was eerie and slightly chaotic. It certainly foreshadowed the madness that the character would eventually sink into.
In the end, I rather enjoyed ‘There Will Be Blood’. It’s a rock solid, entertaining film. And, while it doesn’t fall prey to melodrama, it has enough passion and tragedy to spill. I’d recommend ‘TWBB’ to anyone who wants to watch an intense portrayal of a truly tunnel-visioned man – the kind that ru(i)ns the world today.
It’s a bit long, however, even if it’s engaging enough to get you through. By the final frame, I had had my fill; I don’t feel the need to see it again (although I suspect that I could be coaxed into it if I know someone who’d like to see it ).