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Self-made oilman Daniel Plainview buys up tracks of land in rural turn-of-the-century America on the advice of Eli Sunday, a young hell and damnation preacher. But Plainview's grand vision of a pipeline to the Pacific will cost him dearly, and destroy the only relationship that has ever mattered in his life.
There Will Be Blood, the latest big-screen offering from young maverick P.T. Anderson (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love), is a near-masterpiece.
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), it's as much the story of the entrepreneurial spirit as that of oilman Daniel Plainview.
Plainview is a self-made man driven by an indomitable desire to succeed. He is blind to the fact that in order for him to win, someone else has to lose, and in that flaw his grand plan begins to unravel.
This is epic filmmaking, with a mid-western palette of yellow and ochre and a glorious score that begins with discordance and ends with a full orchestra.
Day-Lewis is always an incredible actor to watch, and the steely uncompromising Plainview is one of his most compelling characters yet. He imbues Plainview with palpable determination -- his first word, and the only one spoken in the film's long opening scene, is "No!", spoken when he faces defeat.
Plainview prospects alone in the rocky interior, discovers oil, and begins to build his empire with a keen vision of how men will rule America in the years to come. When one of his initial band of workers is killed, the childless, nearly asexual Plainview adopts his infant son, who become his nearest and only intimate, not to mention part of his plan for the future.
Instead of a story that pits the independent capitalist spirit against the organized religion in the persona of Eli Sunday (Dano), Anderson shifts his focus to the original on Plainview himself, and an indictment of how far a man can fall when all he cares about is winning.
It ends up feeling like the movie isn't sure what it's about, a shame when the promise is enormous. But the film is not only worth seeing, it's pretty much an essential if you want to experience some of the most striking visuals ever captured, several absolutely captivating performances, moments that will stay with you long after the final credits, and especially if you've followed P.T. Anderson's work at all to this point.
SPOILER ALERT: From this point, please stop reading if you haven't seen the film -- unless you don't mind someone spoiling the ending for you.
There Will Be Blood - Flawed Grandeur
Nothing makes me more upset than a good movie.
Case in point -- There Will Be Blood. A long, long film. Superb acting. Glorious, glorious sights and sounds.
For the first five minutes, I was spellbound. I knew I was in for something special, from the stark mountain vistas to the steely determination in Daniel Day-Lewis's eyes.
Then, the last hour. And I'll tell you right now -- this is not a review, this is a thesis, so understand me when I say I don't mean in any way to undermine what this film DID achieve. But in the last hour or so, the storytelling seems to slip away from director Paul Thomas Anderson. The pace quickens, and the focus narrows in.
A similar path was taken in "Citizen Kane" to highlight the decline into isolation by uber-achiever Kane, and suddenly instead of standing on its own, "Blood" demands this comparison.
It wasn't what I thought Anderson would do, to undermine the grand theme of man vs the world vs his own nature vs organized religion vs... Instead of captivated as I'd been for the rest of the film, I found myself growing restless and bored.
I had a strong sense I'd seen this all before, from the lonely man isolating himself from all but his most obsequious followers in a big, empty house to the almost inevitable decline into drinking and self-abuse. The rushed dealings with the previously vital relationship with Plainview's adopted son undermined what I had believed to be the central theme of the film. Instead of the leisurely pacing of the first ninety minutes, it feels like Anderson is trying to pack in everything he can.
It isn't necessarily a bad thing if a film ceases to be about a story and characters, and seems instead to serve a thesis (in this case, that greed unfettered by humanity leads inevitably to self-destruction). But when that has not been a thesis fully developed in the rest of the film, it feels unsupported and contrived.
But I would always rather see a film that falls an infinitesimal degree short of perfection than one that aims low and succeeds. And "There Will Be Blood" lives up both to the promise of its name and Anderson's previous work. If I am left subtly unsatisfied, it is because I glimpsed an opportunity to speak to the world, when Anderson chose at last to say something quieter to fewer.