Four stars (R)
Thunderous, yet intimate, There Will Be Blood uses sweeping camera work and a bold, string-driven score to tell the story of a bully. Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth feature — after Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love — occupies the No. 2 spot on my Best Movies of 2007 list. The film is audacious and compelling; though it runs for a whopping 158 minutes, my attention never flagged. Anderson’s production grabs you and doesn’t let go. The tone is often bleak, but the way he tells his story is exhilarating.
There Will Be Blood is not for everyone. Some people will come in expecting an epic along the lines of Citizen Kane or Giant and be disappointed when they realize that the big filmmaking techniques are used to present a small story. Some people may be bothered by the end of the story, which I found to be startling, nervy and perfectly appropriate.
Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, channeling John Huston in grand fashion, as a prospector turned oilman at the turn of the 20th century. Day-Lewis has already won several Best Actor awards from various groups and will win more, including the Oscar, most likely. Good for him. His technique in playing the character is ballsy. The John Huston business was risky, as was the size of the performance. He could easily have fallen on his face, coming off as a royal ham aping another actor. But his decisions are sound.
Speaking of sound, wait until you get a listen to the score, by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. The music is heavy on the strings, but not in the gloppy fashion employed by so many productions. These strings are aggressive, beguiling, plaintive, imposing and sometimes abrasive. Prominently positioned in the mix by Anderson, Greenwood’s score adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of the film.
The story introduces us to prospector Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), who finds oil in a wordless sequence that establishes the physicality of the movie. Thirteen years later, Plainview is building an empire, with his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) at his side, when he is tipped off to some oil-rich land. His purchase of said land is complicated when Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, the surly teen from Little Miss Sunshine), the son of the property owner, tries to force Plainview to support his church.
So the battle begins between the in-your-face bully Plainview and the moon-faced, more quietly manipulative Sunday. A few reviewers complained that Paul Dano is no match for Daniel Day-Lewis, failing to understand the dynamics of the characters. Eli Sunday is supposed to pale in comparison to Daniel Plainview. Sunday is the kid who gets thumped by bullies on the playground, but learns that they can be beaten by a quieter, more tricky approach. Plainview gets what he wants through his charismatic/demonic personality. Sunday gets what he wants by using the force of his position as an evangelical preacher to wheedle and threaten others.
Ultimately, There Will Be Blood is simply a tale of dueling schoolboys. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a strong, strange movie. It’s been weeks since I’ve seen it and I remember every scene.