Dude, you want my milkshake, you can have my milkshake, I’m okay with that, really!
Screenplay By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
There Will Be Blood strives to be an epic, a masterpiece of cinema, unfortunately it falls short of that goal thanks to a rather heavy and unfitting final act. For two thirds There Will Be Blood is a brilliantly played, outside of one major problem I will get to later, and structured take on ambition and capitalism. The final act drops those ideas and turns the film into a mano-a-mano showdown between two characters in which ambition is no longer the issue but rather one man’s god versus another man’s god. Daniel Day-Lewis is very powerful as Daniel Plainview, and while he maintains some of that power in the final act he resorts to a level of insanity that doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie or with the path his character was on. There Will Be Blood ends up a good, bordering on very good, film that gets lost in its own desires to be a sweeping melodrama.
What easily impressed me the most about There Will Be Blood was the cinematography of Robert Elswit. While the narrative of the film may fail to reach its lofty goals, the visuals don’t fail and do reach epic levels of achievement. The widescreen presentation is flawless, with various wide shots of the plains of Little Boston that look uninviting, harsh and large in scope. But, where Elswit shines the most is in his layering of frames, in his ability to use the characters to highlight backdrops. The scene where Daniel and Fletcher look on as an oil well spouts plumes of oil, smoke and fire is magnificent and a visual that is beyond words to describe. Also of note in There Will Be Blood is the score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. It fits the time being depicted, but it also connects with modern sensibilities and echoes the aggressiveness we are seeing on the screen.
Daniel Day-Lewis garnered much acclaim for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, and I would agree for two thirds of the film. He is powerful, he is ambition unbridled and he is the ultimate competitor. Equal parts charming and dastardly, he’s the man you let your daughter see and then think you may have made the biggest mistake of your life. Unfortunately Paul Dano is nowhere up to the task as his rival. He is too small and trivial, too bit actor to stand up to Day-Lewis. There’s also the rather troublesome choice of having Dano play both brothers, a choice that is more distracting than anything else. When it comes time for the final confrontation between Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday, there is no tension, there is no revelatory moment. Besides the fact that the narrative has gone astray, there’s also the fact that Sunday is outmatched from the get go and therefore from day one we know how their ultimate confrontation will play out. A stronger actor than Dano would have helped the film greatly, or at the very least made the Sunday character a believable rival for Plainview.
Paul Thomas Anderson certainly isn’t a director afraid of taking chances with his work. His career is full of risky choice after risky choice, and every choice has paid off. There Will Be Blood isn’t his best work, nor is it a great work, but it is still a good movie with tremendous visuals, a captivating score and two-thirds of a great performance.