Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds. Rated R.
Who could have foreseen There Will Be Blood, which marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s indisputable ascent to the ranks of America’s finest filmmakers?
Five years after the offbeat (and somewhat off-putting) comedy Punch-Drunk
Love, his abrasive dalliance with Adam Sandler, Anderson has returned with one of the most audacious
American films in recent memory, a portrait in unrestrained fury powered by Daniel Day-Lewis at the fiery peak of his powers.
If that sounds like high praise, it is deserved. Day-Lewis, the three-time
Oscar nominee who last earned the award nearly two decades ago for his performance in My Left Foot, has never been finer. Here, he is a vision of unchecked avarice and bitterly
consuming contempt, not only for the small-town investors whose land he rapes for oil and the millions that make him one of
the nation’s foremost tycoons, but for all of mankind. He doesn’t speak his lines so much as he spits them out,
his every utterance fueled by a scorn so profound that he feels compelled to hide it behind his carefully constructed image
as a “family man.”
plays Daniel Plainview, a viciously primitive oil man whose life follows a pattern of voracious consumption – of money,
of whiskey, of land and power. He seduces his colleagues (and soon, victims) with promises of a share of the American dream,
presenting his son H.W. (played early on by Dillon Freasier) as proof of his values. By the time H.W. is deafened by a thunderous
blast while his father wanders off to admire the oil stream that will earn him his next fortune, it is clear that Plainview
is incapable of sharing a meaningful bond with any human being, even his son.
Yet There Will Be Blood is very much about family, about brotherly betrayals
and shattered relationships between fathers and sons. Some center around Plainview, who dreams of earning enough to seclude
himself inside a Xanadu-like mansion, shut off from the prying eyes of his colleagues and eventually H.W.; others involve
Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a disingenuous preacher whose own brother Paul summons Plainview to the west Texas plains to suck
his family dry.
everything Plainview despises – the phoniness, the eagerness to manipulate, the unscrupulous desire for power and money
thinly shielded by a veneer of piety. Plainview doesn’t sell God, he sells dreams of material wealth, but in the final
analysis he is not so different from Sunday. They are brothers in corruption, hungry for blood but content to pursue it in
ways that make the other sick with disdain.
There Will Be Blood is a rare achievement, a work of perfect narrative
symmetry and passion that benefits as much from Day-Lewis’s blazing ferocity as from Anderson’s flawless direction.
More thanBoogie Nights or Magnolia, this is Anderson’s masterwork, the mark of an artist
coming into his own with a hellish, almost intimidating vision of greed and naked ambition.