Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review: There Will Be Blood

In one of his most powerful and epic films, Paul Thomas Anderson utilizes the great talent of Daniel Day-Lewis to tell the story of an oilman who will risk anything for success. The film introduces Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) alone working in a small mine to discover oil. He digs and uses dynamite to blow out the rock. He even falls hurting himself in the hole only to drag himself out and purchase the property rights to the land. His well grows and produces as he hires men to work alongside him. One of the men has a small child who he leaves an orphan when he is hit on the head with drilling equipment. Anderson's films also have those sudden spurts of violence and this shocking scene signals changes for Plainview. Years later, he is presenting himself to a town as a family business with his son HW (Dillon Freasier). The monologues by Daniel Day-Lewis are some of my favorite acting performances ever.

Plainview uses his willingness to walk away from a deal to gain power and land as he spreads his talent of drilling for oil to other areas. He works with trusted assistants like Fletcher (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) to help him maintain control of his drilling sites. When a strange young man Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) stops by his place and demands money for information, Plainview is hesitant at first and talks the man down in price. He eventually learns of the place from Paul and heads out to the land pretending to be peasant hunter with his son. They explore the land and discover oil beneath the ground. Eli (also Dano) questions them about their reason for being here and warns his father against selling the land. Still, Plainview is able to purchase the land and begin drilling. Eli begins to develop a religious following using theatrical tactics to frighten his congregants.

Eli demands that Plainview allow him to bless the well but Daniel snubs him and lets Eli's sister say a prayer. The drilling starts but there are many setbacks that Eli claims are the result of Plainview's snub. The worst event comes when the well explodes forth and catches fire knocking HW back and leaving him deaf. Plainview is more enthralled with the ocean of oil beneath him than his son's troubles. As the well begins to produce oil and wealth rolls in, Plainview struggles to deal with his son who increasingly lashes out in anger. Eli demands money he believes he is owed from Plainview who humiliates him and covers him in mud while demanding that he heal HW. 

A man, Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor) arrives claiming to be Plainview's half-brother and he has proof. Plainview agrees to hire him on and the two of them bond over alcohol. HW suspects something and tries to set him on fire. Plainview decides to send HW to a school in San Francisco where he can get help with his deafness. HW begs not to be left but Plainview returns to his work. Plainview refuses an offer from Standard Oil and elects to build a pipeline with Union Oil but he is prevented from completing the pipe when one congregant of Eli's church holds out. Plainview also becomes suspicious of Henry when he mentions things from his past that Henry does not identify with. He holds a gun to Henry and demands that he tell him the truth, and Henry confesses that he knew Plainview's brother. Daniel murders Henry and buries the body before he is confronted the next morning by the last holdout property owner. 

The holdout Bundy forces Plainview to attend Eli's church and confess his sins. Eli uses the opportunity to embarrass Plainview who submits to get his land. HW returns and is angry about being abandoned but falls for Eli's sister and receives help from a translator. More years past and Plainview is a stubborn old man sitting around his mansion shooting at objects and being rude. HW stops by to inform him that he is taking his wife and going to Mexico to start a business but Plainview informs him that HW is not his actual son and leaves him spurned. Eli arrives to try and convince Plainview to invest in a new track of land but Plainview becomes angry explaining the foolishness of the venture and eventually killing the preacher. 

There Will Be Blood is my second favorite movie from Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is grand in scale but pieces together the story with intimate shots often filled with silence or a brilliant score. The film illuminates the struggle of success and the faults of prioritizing work and profits over family and human bonding. While the cast is totally new for Anderson, the director brings out the best in Daniel Day-Lewis making for a wonderful performance that is one to remember forever. I am glad I revisited this film after enjoying it immensely at a younger age.  

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