Words by Matt Poe
“There Will Be Blood” (2007)
In the early 20th century, an oil tycoon and a preacher head toward an uncertain end in a test of faith, humanity and the darkest depths of the human soul.
Category: Drama, Epic, Historical
Rated R for some violence
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Dillon Freasier
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Welcome back to another rousing edition of Poe’s Picks. The semester is winding to a close and Poe’s Picks will be coming to a brief hiatus. *sheds massive elephant tear* But fear not, fellow readers. I’ll be continuing to pump my veins with all things Netflix and will make some recommendations via Twitter.
I’d also love to hear from you guys about any suggestions for movies you have that you think are worth watching and discussing, so don’t hesitate to shout them at me, in person or on the interweb.
The holidays are meant to be spent with friends and family but it’s no excuse to slack on your binge-watching. In fact, it’s heavily encouraged this time of year, especially with that special someone. So let’s not waste any more time and descend into the madness that is this week’s film.
“There Will Be Blood” strays away from recent films that have appeared on the blog, in terms of content and appearance. The film begins in the 1890s where a man named Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) is mining for silver in the barrenness that was the western United States. Just minutes into the film, Plainview suffers a broken leg while mining for silver. Instead of potentially dying in the mine from his wounds, he fastens himself a splint and makes it out alive.
This key scene sets the stage for the entire film going forward. Immediately, we know Daniel is a man who doesn’t succumb to anything so easily and won’t let anyone or anything stand between him and his ambition. Another man is injured working at the same mine and his fate isn’t as fortunate. The miner dies and his infant son is left orphaned, leaving Daniel to take the boy in as his own.
We flash forward to 1911 where Daniel has become an oil tycoon and savvy businessman, traveling around the west and tapping into different oil wells where he can. Along with the boy, named HW (Freasier) he’s earning $5,000 a week, a shitload of money for anyone in that time, let alone now. Things, however, change when a young man named Paul Sunday (Dano) shows up and tells Daniel there is oil in his town that can be drilled, for a hefty price. Daniel, weary at first, decides it’s worth the investment.
Daniel settles into town and brings tapping the oil, but is met from strong resistance and pressure from Paul’s brother, Eli Sunday (also, Dano) and the two begin a complex relationship that elevates as the film progresses.
I remember when “There Will Be Blood” came out almost 10 years ago and I attempted to watch it when I was probably 14 or so. I made it about a half hour in before I called it quits and probably went to do something stupid with my friends. Revisiting the film now and completing it, I’m glad I waited because I don’t think I could have successfully grasped the major themes at hand. While there is a solid plot, this film is a character study and a study of humanity, with some incredible performances.
Dano’s Eli as the God-fearing, God-loving preacher is well-balanced. His scenes of preaching consist of wild antics and borderline meltdowns as he convinces the townspeople of God’s existence and mysterious ways. Other times, he is extremely soft-spoken and challenges Daniel to accept God and repent his sins, which are many.
Day-Lewis’s performance in the film is one the great cinematic achievements of the last 20 years, maybe ever. Daniel Plainview is one of the most complex characters ever to grace the screen and trying to describe him accurately is challenging. He is stubborn, headstrong and tougher than iron, too much for his own good. Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar for the role and it’s easy to see why. He is a titan in this film, brooding and menacing but equally subtle in his actions and words.
The film on a technical level is some of the finest work and the desolate feeling of this time period as the old west died out to usher in the 20th century oozes off the screen. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best directors and writers of the last 20 years and he does the trick again here, with much credit to his cinematographers.
The themes are heavy and I did not feel good watching this movie, which is actually a compliment to all involved, given the subject of the film. I think there are several ways to analyze “There Will Be Blood.” It’s a contrast of two very different men and the role that ambition and religion plays in their respective lives, in a time where God was the be-all, end-all for many.
It’s also a long journey into the descent of madness and shows us that some monsters live inside all of us and what impact we allow them to have on our soul. I think we all have a curiosity in the depths of our minds that wonders what it would be like to let those demons run amok, to let the beast out of its cage on society. Thankfully, most of us don’t act on such inquiries but Daniel is evident of what happens when you do. It’s a film that demands your quiet attention and reminds us there is always a price for one’s salvation in this life or the next, God-fearing or not.
Do I recommend “There Will Be Blood?” Absolutely. Day-Lewis’s performance alone is worth it. But I don’t recommend it as a date movie because it won’t help you get to first base and could jeopardize that second date. Trust me, I moonlight as a couples therapist in my spare time.
Until next time.
In Good Films We Trust,
Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe