There Will Be Blood has been touted as the best film of 2007. Respectfully, I must disagree. That distinction should be awarded to No Country for Old Men. Since critics were saying There Will Be Blood is a movie that viewers will remember for a lifetime, I had to see for myself. That’s high praise. My opinion: although not the best of ’07 and certainly not a movie that remained with me afterwards, There Will Be Blood was a powerfully engrossing and flawlessly acted film.
Directed by Paul Anderson (Magnolia), Blood captures an early 20th century America that was still new and uncharted, in many respects. The opening sequence is a fascinating depiction of the painstakingly dangerous task of oil mining. We watch as a miner chips away at an underground wall of gravel, deep below the ground’s surface. He plants dynamite and carefully climbs back up to the surface. Minutes later, there is an explosion. This process is repeated until the miner strikes oil. This may sound mundane, but it is an important scene because it sets the tone for the film and lets you know that men were willing to risk life and limb for “liquid gold.” The oil business is a serious one (still today), and to the victor goes the spoils.
Enter Daniel Day Lewis (Gangs of New York) as Daniel Plainview, an enterprising oil man from humble beginnings. Plainview began as a digger, but the fruits of his labor soon afford him the luxury of power, and he is able to pay others to mine underground while he manages the operation. During a time in which many Americans carved out meager existences, Plainview’s entrepreneurial zeal is palpable. As a viewer, I had to admire his seemingly honest, forthright nature. His simple, straightforward approach to business dealings reflected the appropriateness of his surname. However, the glimpses of his ambitious approach to oil mining belie a more nefarious nature that would be revealed later. An important focus of the movie involves the relationship between Plainview and his young son, R.W. Their relationship appears affectionate, with Plainview almost treating his son as his contemporary at some points. There is an uneasy atmosphere to the film, a sense of lingering foreboding that is hinted at in almost every scene. Hey, look at the title. Something’s got to give eventually. The scene that reveals Plainview’s essence is a quiet conversation he has with another character saying, (paraphrase) “I don’t like to see other people succeed…I hate most people…” We see Plainview transform from an ostensibly loving father and businessman into a pathetic, hateful shell of a human being. Perhaps it is more of a duality than a transformation, as the same man capable of such paternal affection also proves to be guilty of cruel abandonment. Maybe it was the early 20th century American landscape that birthed this type of man, the sort of rogue individualist who views people with either apathy or contempt, never seeing them beyond the tangible purpose they may serve.
There Will Be Blood is a complex film that is difficult to describe but easy to appreciate. Lewis infuses Plainview with a carnivorous intensity, giving a performance that is so layered and nuanced that I’d be surprised if he didn’t win an Oscar for this role. He is the most powerful, dominant figure in every scene, even when he doesn’t utter a word. I think There Will Be Blood is a rewarding moviegoing experience, if you manage your expectations and go with an eye toward appreciating the performances rather than having a life changing experience.