There Will Be Blood (2007)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Dillon Freasier
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood has been getting attention for both being one of the year’s best films and for Daniel Day-Lewis‘ inspired performance as the main character Daniel Plainview. After watching it, it becomes clear that the perception of the film’s greatness has more to do with Day-Lewis’ performance than does the perception of his greatness depend on the film itself.
Which isn’t to say that this isn’t an excellent film, because it is. A thoroughly accomplished effort of quiet power, PT Anderson’s loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair‘s Oil! is a success, powered by Day-Lewis’ performance and Anderson’s meticulous direction. It’s just that Day-Lewis is so powerful as Plainview that he overshadows much of the film, to the extent that he also covers for some of its flaws.
Daniel Plainview is a silver-tongued oilman who receives a tip about an otherwise worthless tract of land that sits on top of a reservoir of oil. Purchasing that land up for a pittance, Plainview begins to drill for oil with his cherub-faced son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) by his side, coming into conflict with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the local preacher whose family’s land Plainview originally buys up. The two men enter into a battle of wills that reveals Plainview’s true nature, as his unbridled pursuit of fortune strips away whatever humanity Plainview may have had.
The problem is that Day-Lewis is so magnificent as the malevolent Plainview that the rest of the characters seem pale and less interesting in comparison. The ending seems to reveal the movie to be a battle of wits between Plainview and Eli, but I never really got the impression that Eli was anything more than an annoyance to Daniel, and definitely not a true rival. This isn’t to say that Dano is a lightweight in the role, it’s just that he gets swept up in Day-Lewis’ bravura performance like much of the rest of the movie.
Other than Day-Lewis, the best part of the film is PT Anderson’s remarkable ability to use long, unspoken segments of the film to build intensity. Without using any dialogue, Anderson is able to use the actions of the characters and Jonny Greenwood‘s piercing score to effectively tell the whole story, almost convincing me that the movie could have succeeded as a silent feature.
It’s that level of craftsmanship combined with Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance that make There Will Be Blood a true work of art, albeit one that may be more of an accomplished showcase of acting than a fully-formed story.