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Movie Review: There Will Be Blood

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Legend holds that after seeing Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Tom Cruise jumped to his feet and loudly declaimed, "That rocks!". Some movies take a little longer to process. After watching No Country for Old Men I remember considering the movie for a few days before finally deciding that it was, indeed, a great film with a perfect ending. Likewise, it's only now--a week after seeing it--that I'm ready to write about There Will Be Blood. I'm not sure if it's Paul Thomas Anderson's best film, but I'm certain that it's his most peculiar and ambitious.

At the center of the film--hell, filling the entirety of the film--is an astonishing performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview. As far as I'm concerned, there are only two mortal locks this year to win an Oscar--Roger Deakins for his cinematography on No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood. His Daniel Plainview is a creation of such controlled, precise, enduring malevolence that it is both terrifying and wonderful to watch.

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Plainview is, as he often intones, an 'oil man'. As the film opens, we find him chipping away at rocks in a deep well looking for that very thing. That first sequence may, in fact, be the finest, purest filmmaking Anderson has ever managed. Nothing is spoken for over ten minutes as a solitary Plainview hunts for oil and almost dies finding it after a brutal fall. Without benefit of a single word, Anderson and Day-Lewis reveal everything about Plainview's character in this passage--his hunger, his persistence, his utterly indomitable will.

Later, when he arrives in a small California town where oil is so plentiful that it literally seeps from the ground, we know that Plainview will capture every last drop of it. What's odd about There Will Be Blood is that the relative simplicity and predictability of the story never once reduces your pleasure in watching it unfold. You certainly can't imagine Plainview losing, but you also never get bored watching him triumph. His final 'victory'--in a bowling alley of all places--is simply magnificent: bizarre, horrifying and yet--somehow--perfectly fulfilling.

While Daniel Day-Lewis is the undeniable engine of the film, credit is also due to the sturdy Ciaran Hinds as his major domo and Paul Dano as Plainview's presumed nemesis, Eli Sunday. The greatest share of praise, though, must go to Dillon Freasier as Plainview's young son and partner, H.W. In his first film, Freasier gives the most unaffected performance by a child since Victoire Thivisol in Ponette. Remarkably subtle and thoughtful, Freasier gives the film its only real moments of genuine human feeling. All else is greed and despair.

Whether There Will Be Blood marks a turning point in Paul Thomas Anderson's career remains to be seen. In its singlemindedness and misanthropy, it certainly marks a departure from his earlier, sprawling films that relied so strongly on redemption as a theme. There is no--none, zero--redemption in There Will Be Blood which is one of its great strengths. The dissonant score to the film by Jonny Greenwood and the shadowy photography of Robert Elswit add further darkness to what is already a pitch-black film. This viewer welcomed all of it.

Photos courtesy ofParamount Vantage