There Will Be Blood is all encompassing, from the first gorgeous frame to the final macabre moments. What eventually unfolds is unlike anything you've seen before, and the film will either profoundly delight and awe you or leave you disgusted, discomforted, and longing for more.
We begin in the year 1898, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is seen silver mining, and some years later, oil prospecting and mining. There are brutal accidents at both sites, detailing the harsh nature of the business, and leaving the child of one of the workers fatherless. Plainview adopts the child and we next see the two of them a decade or so in the future, prospecting for oil in various towns. Plainview is met by a mysterious visitor one day, who tells them where there is a great deal of oil to be drilled, and Plainview and his son head to the small town to prospect. Upon arrival, they meet Eli Sunday, played with sleaze and skill by the young Paul Dano, who negotiates the sale of the land, demanding that some money be given to his church, of which he is the pastor. Plainview goes along
with Sunday's demands merely to procure the land and begin drilling. What unfolds from there is a decades long rivalry with all the furor of the title's promise behind it.
As a director, Paul Thomas Anderson makes some stylized choices that one never supposed he had the ability to make, such as the completely dialogue free nature of the first fifteen or twenty minutes, which builds unknowing anticipation to the first lines of dialogue. Anderson lets the landscape and environments do much of the talking, and dialogue takes a sparse back-seat to the grandeur of the countryside, the dusty precision of the costuming and production design. Much will be made of Johnny Greenwood's score, which is dissonant, lush and sprawling and a remarkable choice by Anderson. The score perfectly offsets the dusty and gritty landscape, and underlines the savage cruelties lingering just below the surface, threatening to overwhelm at any moment.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, the film is rife with violence and heartbreak, a strong dramatic work made whole by Day-Lewis's spectacular performance. Day-Lewis radiates strength and power at every turn, absolutely in control of his environment. His few moments of tenderness are quiet, and we are left feeling as though we're illicitly watching a private moment, rather than experiencing said
moment along with him.
In the end, Plainview is relentless in his search for wealth and security, though we are always left unsure as to what it is he truly wants. Even with the most rampant success, he continues to drink and
slur, left with no one he can really trust. The film never makes good on its initial promise, the two main characters are seen to perhaps represent religion and secularism, yet Eli Sunday, turns out to be just as mercenary and lost as Plainview. A few key moments in the film seem to eerily set the stage for a real showdown, and a strong meditation on the divide between religion and all else that seems to grow constantly wider, yet the climax of the film lays all that aside and leaves one gasping for air, wondering what just happened.
All else aside, Anderson has made three-fourths of a masterpiece, the kind of film that we are privileged to see, and is becoming all too rare. The scope of the film is grand, from the perfect mise-en-scene to the cryptically prophetic title, the treacherous characters to the graphic and unforgiving ending, There Will Be Blood is a true honor to behold.