When we talk about the best years in film, 2007 and movies like There Will Be Blood are an important part of that conversation. Loosely based on the 1927 novel Oil by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood is one of the best American films of the 2000s for simply being not only a uniquely American story, but for being told with staggering sweep and scope. There’s spectacle, ugliness, hope, family, and a plethora of other themes and ideas that this Paul Thomas Anderson movie covers. These are not uniquely American qualities, of course, but nowhere else in the world would this story be told in this fashion.
There Will Be Blood is a massive film that also feels intimate, insulated in its focus on the rise of a ruthless oil man named Daniel Plainview, played with such depth and energy by Daniel Day-Lewis that we can’t help but get pulled in immediately. We know we’re not dealing with a particularly good person, even as we see him take in a child (played mostly by the very effective Dillon Freasier in what is still his only acting role) whose father was killed at the same drill site where Daniel was working. We can at least allow that Daniel is a complex man, and not simply good or bad.
Among other things, There Will Be Blood is a movie about making choices. It deals in the choices we make in the slavish service to ambition. No one in the world of this film is more ambitious than Daniel Plainview. It’s an extraordinary drive to watch in a cinematic setting. This is as cinematic as anything can get, as There Will Be Blood could not exist as beautifully and powerfully in any other form. This isn’t a movie that absolutely must be seen on the big screen, but the best viewing experience you can put together is still ideal.
Beyond being masterfully adapted from Sinclair’s novel (the movie uses certain characters and ideas but is ultimately its own thing) and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood features phenomenal collaborative achievements by its crew. Production design by Jack Fisk, cinematography by Robert Elswit, and original music by Jonny Greenwood all create a world that is as towering and breathtaking as it is frightening.
There Will Be Blood is gorgeous in every technical way, but it’s when these qualities are combined with career high performances by Lewis, Paul Dano (a consistently excellent actor who singularly shines in this epic film) that we have a movie that’s a complete experience. Everything you could ever want in a well-made piece of high drama, filled with moments that go beyond that to be humorous, scary, or simply compelling, can be found here.
I was fortunate to see There Will Be Blood in theaters, and it’s a film I think about often. There’s a notion of sacrifice and fury that drives Daniel Plainview, and watching Daniel Day-Lewis put all of that into one of the most complex characters in modern film history is just the beginning of what There Will Be Blood shows and tells me.
There Will Be More Movies if you want to catch up with the rest of the MTSBYD column.
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